Six-year-old Manasi Joshi had no idea that her badminton racket would one day change her world and carve out an illustrious career.
She also didn’t know that she would have to fall—hard—before she’d get there.
At 31, para-badminton star Manasi Joshi has a heap of accomplishments—global recognitions and shiny medals from World Championships, for starters. The latest addition to her list? Featuring on the cover of Time Magazine's Next Generation Leader, a dream that was unknown to her until that fateful day on December 2, 2011.
Manasi was straight out of college and had bagged her first job as a software engineer in Mumbai. Bright-eyed and eager, she geared up her bike to make her daily commute to the office. But, a few minutes in, tragedy struck—she was taking a U-turn under a flyover when a lorry, cantering in the wrong direction, ran over her leg.
What followed in the moments after the crash seems to have left a permanent mark in Manasi’s memories. Recounting the terrifying details of the accident to BBC, she said: “I was still conscious after it happened. I managed to sit up and take my helmet off. I immediately knew my injuries were serious.”
While the crowd flocked to her side in alarm, help was still a while away. After wasting precious moments waiting for the ambulance, the police officers who had made their way there, lifted her on a makeshift stretcher and took her to the closest hospital, which unfortunately was not equipped to deal with the seriousness of her injuries. Two painful hours later, the ambulance that would take her to a larger hospital crawled its way to the scene, and by the time she received proper treatment for her now gaping wounds and crushed left leg, a good nine hours had passed since the incident.
What followed was an agonizing 45 days at the hospital, where she was wheeled in for surgery every ten odds days. The doctors, who were now desperate to save her crushed leg, tried everything but eventually had to break the terrible news. Her leg would have to be amputated. She would have to get a prosthetic leg.
A star is born
Success stories of people meeting with tragedies often do liken the person to a phoenix—rising from the ashes, should they be so lucky. Usually though, in almost every story, there’s a fall preceding the rise. A period of despair, anger at being a victim to a traitorous fate, and finally acceptance.
The light, however, never left Manasi. As she tells BBC, the days following her accident were filled with love, support and encouragement from family, friends, and even the medical staff attending to her. Her hospital room became the new hangout spot, and it was always filled with hope.
“There was not even a single moment where I felt something very bad has happened to me. I'll say the worst I felt was when I came home and I looked at myself in the mirror and said, 'Oh yeah this doesn't look good!' But then after a few days, I felt 'It's OK, it's just a scar... it's just a leg,” she says.
It was this positive spirit that would eventually lead her on to the international court. Manasi’s father, a government scientist at Mumbai's prestigious Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, favoured academia as a career choice for his children, but was highly encouraging of them participating in extracurriculars and outdoor activities. To this end, Manasi enrolled herself in all games—basketball, football, volleyball, and even in art and music lessons—when she was in school, but she remained loyal to her favourite sport: badminton.
At six, her father handed her her first racket and taught her how to shuffle. Seeking the comfort of warmer days and memories, she went back to playing the sport as a part of her rehabilitation and recovery process—to get used to her prosthetic leg. She enrolled in various corporate tournaments and won many gold medals. It was her remarkable skill on the court that caught the eye of a friend and fellow para-badminton player, Neeraj George, who recommended that she try out for the Indian team.
With a renewed zeal and determination, Manasi began to train for the Para Asian Games in 2014, but didn’t get selected. Refusing to give up, she kept practising and in December of the same year, she played her first national-level tournament and bagged the silver medal. In March 2015, she participated in the Spanish Para-Badminton International Tournament and although she didn’t win any medals, she was now confident enough to try her luck at the sport professionally.
World Championships and other success stories
It was a chance meeting with the legendary Pullela Gopichand, coach to icons like Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu, that gave her the final push she needed. Manasi was working in a bank in Ahmedabad when she saw Gopichand striding in. Ever the go-getter, she walked right up to him and asked if he would train her.
With Gopichand taking her under his wing, the path was clear now for Manasi. Moving to Hyderabad in 2018, she attended Pullela Gopichand Academy where she would train dedicatedly: three sessions a day, six days a week. After months of gruelling training, Manasi reached a milestone in her career—winning gold in Switzerland at the BWF Para-Badminton World Championship, one of the world’s biggest badminton tournaments, in August 2019. This win turned her into a celebrity worldwide and a role model for little girls across India. Even before her memorable win, Manasi Joshi had been rallying for the Indian government to waive taxes on prostheses and other disability aids.
Manasi’s story holds chapters of unbelievable grit, bounds of hope and positivity, and an unbreakable spirit. We can only hope that India can boast of many more exceptional women like Manasi in the days to come.
(Edited by Kanishk Singh)