Ambassador Stories: Shalini Saraswathi
There is little that has not been written about Shalini Saraswathi. Blade runner, aspiring Olympian, travel enthusiast, successful professional, arresting speaker, it has all been said multiple times. All you need to do is Google the name and the stories shall emerge from the crevices of cyber woodwork. But at ABBF, our adjectives are a little different. Superstar, cheerleader, rockstar. The very definition of gregarious. Friend. Ally. Ambassador.
It was on an innocent vacation to Cambodia that Shalini’s life as she knew it would change. When her natural warmth and love for pets made her pause a moment to pet stray dogs, little did she know that action would set off a domino effect in the months to come. Contracting a rare bacterial infection called Ricketssial with morts, her next few months were spent on a journey that began with a fever and spiralled through multiple organ failure, coma, a “tango with death”, the loss of all her limbs, and a two-year recovery period. At the end of it all (or perhaps it is better heralded a beginning?), Shalini was a quadruple amputee.
One would think this was the opening of a drama, a movie filled with the trials and tribulations of Life, capital L and all. Yet, with Shalini, this was the start of something new, a journey defined by its positivity and candour. Believing that disability cannot stop anyone from living Life queen-sized, she set out on her journey to redraw her lines, redefine her boundaries, and see how much she can push the limits. It was this shared passion for not toeing the “rules” that brought her to ABBF.
“My interaction with Divyanshu began with a phone call,” she recalls. “Now, it has grown into a strong friendship anchored by ABBF. I just had to be friends with someone who did not think we just had to ‘survive’ with disability, but wanted to live the whole nine yards of life.” Thus, our story with Shalini began.
Shalini’s story with disability and sport has been one of unwavering determination. In the days following her amputations, she took it one day at a time. “I focused on the things I could do,” she recalls. “Reading saved me. I learnt classical music. I wrote. My friends and family were a huge support system.” When one of her arms got auto-amputated, Shalini remembers feeling relieved. “I just knew it was a sign to move on.” And in a few months, she was ready to get back on her (new prosthetic) feet.
“Growing up, I was part of my school volleyball team, I ran track for my house in school, and am trained in Bharatnatyam while dabbling in Kathak as well as salsa. Being physically active was a part of my life. After my amputations, I just wanted to get fit again. I checked out a few gyms but none of them knew how to deal with me. That is how I found myself on the track.” This serendipitous journey began with just walking and progressed to a jog and then a run. A few months after her blades arrived, she ran a 10K marathon.
Over the years, Shalini has been at the frontlines of our events, cheering us on, believing in the platform of inclusive adventure, and helping us in every possible way. Whether it is spreading the message, always having a kind word to spare, helping raise funds, or being uber-generous with her own contributions, we know we can always count on Shalini.
As a blade-runner and marathoner herself, she is no stranger to the power of play! “Playing is how we bonded as children,” she explains. “If we extend that and bring PwDs and able-bodied people together, we learn that disability is just a state of mind! That is what ABBF does – gives hope and joy to PwDs and opens up everyone’s lives through the power of interaction.”
We cannot be more thrilled to count Shalini as one of the biggest cheerleaders in our corner, and we cannot wait for all the adventures yet to unfold!