Neeraj George doesn’t let his disability get in the way of his love for adventure.
Neeraj George loves adventure. His life itself has been an adventurous journey with many twists and turns in it. Neeraj, who works as an assistant at the advocate general’s office, was diagnosed with bone tumor on the knee at the age of 8. His leg was amputated above the knee. It was then that his tryst with badminton began. Although it started as a means for physical activity, he gradually became passionate about it and played para-badminton on national and international levels.
“I watched the game on television and started playing it,” says Neeraj, who plays on crutches. “Internationally, there are no para-badminton players on crutches now. They use prosthetic legs. Before me, there was a German player and he retired,” says Neeraj, who took badminton professionally during college days. “I read about Badminton Sports Association of India for the Challenged (BSAIC) on the internet. For the first time, I played doubles with their help in Orissa. I won a silver medal,” he adds.
Though Neeraj went to Scotland to pursue higher studies, he clung to his passion. His international stint began in 2009 when he returned to India. He says, “The first one was Israel Open Tournament held in Tel Aviv. I won bronze in doubles.” In total, he took part in six international events held at various places including Spain, France and Korea. He has also participated in national championships. “I was taken in the special sports person category,” says Neeraj, who now focuses more on promoting fresh talents . Not only para-badminton, but Neeraj is also into trekking and adventure sports. A forest-lover, he turned to trekking in 2011. “In Kerala, I have trekked to places like Chembra Peak, Pakshipathalam, Ponmudi, Peechi, Ilanjippara Falls, Ilaveezhapoonchira, Illikkal Kallu and Edakkal Caves,” he says. Neeraj would never forget the trek at Pakshipathalam, a dangerous trekking point. “It includes cave hiking. Covering the rocky and slippery areas was a lifetime experience. Another interesting sight was the innumerable bats there,” he says. His longest trek was from Munnar top station to Kodaikanal. “I covered 27 km.”
His latest achievement is scuba diving which he explored in Thiruvananthapuram. Organised by Bond Safari, Kovalam, in tune with the state government project — barrier-free tourism, it has been a different experience for Neeraj. “I didn’t know swimming and was afraid of water. But this dive washed away all my fears,” he recalls. “I had to mentally prepare for this. Dr Capt Shanthanu, a certified trainer for the differently-abled, and team Bond Safari provided me with the support. He explained the whole process to me — the gears we use, how to behave in an emergency and underwater communication,” says Neeraj. After the briefing, they did a trial in a pool to make him comfortable and familiar with the procedures before heading to the real site. “It was a different world down there. I saw fishes alive and even tried to touch them. It was an experience to cherish forever.”
He feels barrier-free tourism will be a success. “Though late, it is a good move. It will reap success,” says a hopeful Neeraj. He himself is an example. He remembers one instance, “It was during 2011-2012. I was working in Bengaluru then. My friends and I went for trekking in Edakkal Caves. At the entrance, the forest officials stopped me and said I wouldn’t be able to do it. But I convinced them, went in and returned back, proving them wrong. They were surprised.”
All these adventures inspire him to do more. “During the Munnar-Kodaikanal trek, I was the only differently-abled person. Fellow travellers were apprehensive about whether I would make it. But my team reached the finishing point second with just 15 minutes difference from the winning team. Everyone applauded us,” says Neeraj. He prefers visiting tourist destinations on weekdays so that he can do it at his pace. He says, “Walking on crutches is not an easy task. I have to calculate and walk. The locations are crowded on weekends and I don’t want to disturb others.”
After scuba diving, he wants to explore parasailing and skydiving. His dream is to trek at the Everest base camp. “I plan to do that next year,” he says, adding that he has six months to prepare for it. “I will have to modify my crutches to suit the terrain and work on my physical strength. I am in touch with trainers and those who have done it before,” concludes the adventure seeker.