Is it when you don’t have enough money? What about not getting support for whatever it is that you’re pursuing? Maybe a physical handicap?
There’s one underlying factor that’s common though – we make an assumption that the problem exists externally. In a way, we look at the ‘situation’ as the problem.
Manikandan seems to look at it a little differently. At the age of 15, he had already decided to become a climber. Today, he’s a world champion with a gold medal and five silvers to his name. He also happened to have lost his right leg to Polio at a very young age.
The tough years
Barring the loss of his leg, Mani grew up as any child would, albeit the financial difficulties his family had to face. “My father had to work out of town and my mother had to take care of me and my brother. She would also roll aggarbattis to help with the monetary situation. She really did a fantastic job of looking after us.”
While his parents were able to send him through school, Mani unfortunately did not take well to studies and failed in his tenth grade exams. “I didn’t know what to do after that. I just told my parents that I would stop studying and work as a mechanic so that I could help with the finances.” Deep down, Mani already knew where his life would be heading.
The passion for reaching higher
In 2002, Mani travelled to Ramnagar in Karnataka on a school trip. It was in that district that he was first exposed to climbing. “I did a little bit of trekking there as well and I realised that I quite liked it. I wanted to continue with it and the instructor suggested that I go to the Youth Services Centre.”
Mani immediately went to the centre and connected with Mr. Keerthi Pais, an instructor that would play an influential role in his life. “I went to the centre regularly to practice. I soon asked Keerthi Sir if I could compete one day. He told me that I could do anything that I wanted.” Within three months, Mani took part in a competition at the junior level and fared quite well. “People appreciated my ability to climb so well. No one spoke of my disability and frankly, it never even came to my mind. All I wanted to do was climb.”
From that point on, Mani’s trajectory was only set to move upwards. He focused on his climbing career after leaving school and started competing at the state and national levels. In India, there were no competitive avenues for the disabled and hence, he would compete with people who were not physically challenged. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it taught Mani to work much harder. “My only goal was to give my best all the time. I’ve learnt a lot from my failures and it has made me what I am today.”
The big dream
Circa 2003, Mani was involved in a documentary related the sport of climbing. “I remember then that I had decided to become a world champion. I was only about 16 years old when I made that decision.” There was no turning back for Mani. He approached his life with a renewed sense of focus with only this particular dream in mind. “I never lost my mood and kept my passion for climbing alive. I worked very hard.”
He also worked full-time for Mr. Keerthi Pais to provide for his family and continued climbing and taking part in competitions. Mani became obsessed with the idea of becoming the champion that he envisioned. “My family wanted me to take a job. I decided that I would find a way to help my family through what I was doing then. I had no idea how, but I knew that I would find a way to do it. My day would begin and end with the wall.”
Under the tutelage of Mr. Keerthi, Mani continued to excel and was mentored by him until 2009. He then went on to training himself. “I learnt a lot from watching other climbers. We can learn from anyone if we have the urge to learn.”
For Mani, it wasn’t just practice that would get him to compete at an international level; he also needed to raise the money for it. After spending close to a decade in the pursuit of his one and only dream, Mani had an opportunity to compete in Paris. “I found a way to raise Rs. 1.5 lakhs through every possible avenue. Many of my friends helped me as well and I finally managed to scrape the money together. Winning this competition was everything for me and I had to make it.”
Close to a decade later, Mani finally found himself on the international stage. All his years of practice and competing against those who were not physically challenged had finally paid off. In the year 2012, Mani returned home as a world champion in paraclimbing. “It was an incredible moment for me and my life changed completely. I didn’t even tell my parents that day and they learnt of it through the Times of India! Everyone was overjoyed”.
For Mani, this would bring about a bigger change that just the satisfaction of winning – he received financial support and is now in a much better place to support his family. “I was the first Indian to win this championship and that gave the sport in itself publicity in our country. It was a big moment for the climbing committee as well. It truly turned my life around and it was all worth it.”
Life as it stands now
Since then, Mani has continued to compete at the international level. Today, he stands at World No. 2. “I intend to become a world champion again.”, he says. He now plays the role of a teacher and many of his students are national champions today. What else does he have in store for himself in the future? “I wake up every morning, have my Chai, and go to the wall. All I want to do is climb, live my life and stick to my passion. I will do this till I die.”
In our conversation with Mani, it was quite clear that his entire journey had been the function of one simple but powerful element – determination. It took a decade for him to reach his goal but he stuck with it. “If you have a dream, you must simply keep chasing it. No matter how many times you fail, get up and move. If you’ve made your choice, you will make it.”
There was something more to learn from Mani though – a lesson that was unsaid. In our entire conversation, he never spoke of his disability. It was almost like it didn’t exist. Interestingly, we felt the same way.
Mani lost his right leg to Polio at a very young age. His story has very little to do with this.
In Mani’s head, it isn’t a problem.
It’s one thing to treat every problem as a challenge and a way of life.
It’s another thing altogether to decide that there is no problem.
Even though Mani returned home a world champion, he is yet to get the financial support he deserves. He is off to compete in Austria soon and needs to raise two lakhs in total. If you’d like to help him out in whatever little way you can, do reach out to us.