Manasi Joshi is an Indian para-badminton player, the current World Champion and a changemaker. Rightly said, leaders are not born, they are made.
Manasi was listed as the Next Generation Leader 2020 by TIME Magazine in October 2020 and she appeared on their Asia cover, making her the first para-athlete in the world and the first Indian athlete to be featured on the magazine’s cover, for being an advocate of rights for people with disabilities.
Barbie celebrated Manasi and her achievements by modelling a one-of-a-kind Barbie doll to her likeness to inspire young girls.
She has also been recognized by BBC as one of the 100 most inspirational & powerful women across the world in 2020. In conversation with the editor, Anubha singhai the champion shares her story.
1. Were you inclined towards Badminton from childhood?
I have been playing Badminton since childhood. The place where we used to live (Anushaktinagar, BARC colony) had Sports facilities very nearby with availability of coaches, who were very encouraging. Our School also ensured that every child participated in at least one sport. We had great teachers and great encouragement for Sports, and my parents made sure that I didn’t miss my trainings, right from picking and dropping me, they have always been very supportive. Initially I also played Football along with Badminton till class 8th, after which I continued with Badminton.
2. What was going in your mind when you were told that amputation was the only option left post accident?
After the horrifying accident that took place in Dec’2011, I was told that amputation is the only option. It was very difficult but I also knew that living a life like a person with Disability is far better than losing your life. I knew that is going to happen and I chose to be practical. In your early 20’s either you become too optimistic, or too negative in your perspective. I was very positive, all thanks to the people around me.
My parents have always assured me and my siblings that we are doing great and that led to our positive nature. I think that sort of upbringing prepares one for hard times.
3. Did you have an experience of working with a Physiotherapist before the accident?
I was freshly graduated from college and a lot of my friends had taken up Physiotherapy as their career option, so I was acquainted, although I had first-hand experience only after my amputation, where my Physios taught me how to take my steps.
4. Prosthetic training takes ample of time. Did it come easy to you? What was the role played by physiotherapy in your rehabilitation post -surgery?
Of course, it was not easy. I had to undergo two amputations after the accident during my hospitalization- finally going for an Above-Knee Amputation. After amputation, I learnt how to use Crutches, how to go up and down the stairs by my Physio. Initially I was afraid of walking of falling down because of my crutches, but my Physiotherapists would spend lot of time in training me to go up and down the slopes, stairs and uneven surfaces.
After I got discharged, I had to climb up and down at least 12 stairs to go to the lift from day 1. I also had a compound fracture in my Radius and Ulna (Left forearm) after accident, so for me, Physiotherapy was also about learning to regain my hand functionality which took a lot of time.
Every day I knew what my targets were, and I was not sad but determined to achieve my goal to get better. My friends, family, and my Physios, everyone made sure to fill in hope and positivity every day and that made me stronger.
5. When did you make up your mind to choose Badminton? Was it started initially as a part of training and why did you choose it?
Badminton was something that I was playing after I started walking. I went to attend corporate level tournaments in Mumbai. I was playing Badminton twice weekly before the accident, and told my Physio that I wanted to play again. I also told them that I would like to go for trekking and trips, and they said yes, you can. So, for my personal happiness, I started playing Badminton. My brother is a Badminton player and I used to go with him to our local community centre, where I used to play earlier.
Although I used to just play standing shots but the happiness of hitting shuttle with racquet gave me a lot of confidence and independence. I also relearned to balance my Centre of Gravity and wanted to gain more agility and control over my body. Every step helped me to learn better and regain my strength, mobility and agility. I joined my office again and weekly twice went for my practice. I won a gold medal in a corporate tournament after accident and that was a turning point for me.
6. Do you feel Physiotherapy has made you stronger?
Yes, of course it has.
7. What is your Physio session like?
It is much similar to a typical training session for a Badminton Player, only thing is that the Physio has to be flexible enough to adapt to the needs of the Para badminton Athlete.
8. When was the decision to participate in Para badminton happen?
My accident was the talk of the town in 2011-12 and when I suddenly won a Gold in a Corporate Tournament, that blew out of proportion as my company had more than 20,000 employees across India. My Company was very encouraging, as I led many Women Corporate Tournaments. I used to post a lot of updates on Fb. I always had great appreciation and won consolation prizes. One of my Fb friends, a Para badminton player suggested that why don’t I try it at National Level, so in 2014 I played my first match in Para Badminton with the assistance of Neeraj George, who was a Para Badminton athlete. I went into the international game after just 3 years after my accident, which for me is a big achievement as it’s a very little for such injuries to heal and also think of playing a Tournament.
9. How does it feel to become a World Champion?
To become a World Champion, I think one requires an attitude of Perseverance, an attitude that says, Try Harder, put in more efforts. That I think is the recipe for success.
10. Who do you attribute your success to?
Apart from hard-work, I attribute my success to the people around me, my Doctors, Physios, Prosthetist, my friends, family and office-people, my coaches, trainers. I think it’s the sum total of everybody’s efforts. There are times when their belief in me is stronger than my belief and so I push harder.
11. If we go by the “best is yet to come” dictum, what would that be for you?
We as humans are never satisfied with what we get and that’s how we grow with time. I understand that what I’m going to do today, I might not be able to do tomorrow but will give me more power and energy to think differently in case the things don’t work out the way I wanted, it would still be better, looking at my own journey, where I relearnt to walk again.
12. Do you think that your disability has made you a stronger woman?
For a person with disability, it’s not so that once you start walking on your prosthesis, life becomes easier. Every day is a challenge. There are times when I don’t feel like wearing my prosthetic leg or times when I feel over-worked and don’t feel like going for training today. Sport is something where you have to be physically active. I have learnt that we humans know how to be adaptive to the situation. I have adapted too.
13. How do you feel to be in BBC’s top 100 Women’s list?
It feels great to be in the list as only four women from India were a part of it. It feels great to be a part of the Influencers list.
14. Your advice to physiotherapists of India and the scope of career as a sports physio?
I think the Physiotherapists who want to be in Sports Physiotherapy have to be very adaptive to the current trends in the field of sports. I also would like to request all Sports Physios to learn about the sport, see athletes and their movements, be on field because every athlete is different who is learning to become better in the game. Being on court or on ground with your athlete will teach you more than you can learn from the books.
Also, they should publish more research papers in this field. I would like to read more research papers by Physios to understand how they have helped athletes recover from their injuries. I wish sports Physios also take opportunity into para sports.
15. How was your experience at Dubai Para-Badminton Tournament 2021?
I felt great. One of my prosthetics that I used to play with had developed a problem just 2 weeks before the Tournament so I had to shift to Running Prosthetic that I was still adapting too. I was able to do so quickly because of the support of my trainers who believed that I was strong enough to adapt to changes in prosthetic.
I was happy enough to win Silver there, although I thought to bag Gold.