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Real Life Hero HARI BUDHA MAGAR

The year 2010 marked a turning point in the life of Hari Budha Magar, a former British Gurkha soldier and war veteran, who lost both his legs above the knees in the Afghanistan war while representing the British Gurkha regiment. “I struggled the next two years to accept the way I was. The loss made me a drunkard. I used to drink every single day,” recalls Hari. He even went to a rehab centre in the UK and on counseling, he decided to try sports. “I tried every sport from sky diving, rock climbing, long-distance kayaking, cycling to alpine skiing. And finally stumbled upon mountaineering which was my childhood dream,” he smiles. Hari was born in Thawang, a remote village in Rolpa district. Mt Dhaulagiri and Mt Sisne were visible from his home and every morning he dreamt of reaching the top. At 19 years of age, he enlisted with the Royal Gurkha Riffles and served in the British Army for 15 years.

He has reached high altitude locations like Surya Kunda in Nepal and ascended mountains like Ben Nevis in Scotland, Mt Blanc in France, Thorong La Pass and Mera Peak in Nepal with the grade bionic leg attached to his thighs. This way he became the first bilateral above-the-knee amputee to summit a peak upward of 19,000 feet. In March 2018, Hari was the driving force behind taking Nepal’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation to the Supreme Court for issuing a set of regulations barring visually impaired and double amputee climbers from attempting to scale Mount Everest.

Hari is currently training himself for Mt Everest in London and in a telephonic interview with Ankita Jain, he shares about his life journey, future plans and experiences. He wears many hats including that of a motivational speaker, researcher, investor, solider and social activist. Excerpts of a conversation with WOW:

Could you share the toughest and most memorable moment during your mountain expedition.

For a double amputee, it takes three times more energy and time to climb a mountain. During the Mera Peak summit, there was a moment when only 50 m was left to reach the top and that 50 m distance took me more than an hour. When I finally reached the top, I was crying like a baby. Similarly, when I was climbing Mont Blanc, it took me 23 hours to reach the top. In between I thought of giving up several times, however concentrating on one step at a time helped me conquer my dream.

How tough is it to find the prosthetics or devices required for running, mountaineering and cycling?

There is hardly any equipment available for double-amputee athletes in the market. A friend and I are designing the right equipment required for mountaineering. We have improvised and developed supporting equipments too.

Since there very few double amputees who would take up such activities, it is not commercially viable to manufacture them on a large scale. However, if anyone is interested they can approach us and we will help them build these special equipment.

What is the status of para-athletes?

The situation is improving and we can see more numbers of para-athletes participating in events. There are good opportunities but also challenges. Getting sponsorship is tough for such athletes across the world. Talking about Nepal, the scope is good but there are no facilities for people like us. I know athletes who can perform well in para-athletics but there is no support from the government.

You are a motivation speaker; from your life experiences of undertaking risky expeditions and conquering summits, what are the traits that will equally benefit those who want to climb up the ladder in their professional or personal life?

The most important is visualisation. You need to visualise the successes and challenges that come your way. Know how to get around and find your way to the point you want to reach. Second most important quality is to have a positive attitude. It is everything. Look at the opportunities, identify them and make the most of it.

What are the different policies regarding differently abled people that you are lobbying for in Nepal?

As a global community, we need to address issues of accessibility and remove barriers, not build them. Today, disabled people in Nepal are confined to their homes and cannot move around freely. In Kathmandu, you’ll be pressed to find a single wheelchair-accessible bathroom. We have to reshape these realities.

We want a separate ministry that would look into the disabled population matters. Also, we are lobbying for universal building design for better accessibility. Further, we are also in talks with the hospitality association to have 10% of rooms with disable access.

You brought change in the regulations barring visually impaired and double amputee climbers from attempting to scale Mount Everest. When are you planning to summit Everest now?

I was disheartened when I was banned to climb the mountain in 2017. It was a violation of human rights. Three months I couldn’t sleep while the case was in court. We were lucky that the movement drew sharp criticism from disability and civil rights organisations worldwide and within four months we won the case. Finally, between April-May 2020, I along will my team will attempt to scale Mt. Everest. Through this expedition I want to convey that I am no different than any other human being.

How tough was it to get sponsors on board?

I have struggled enough to get sponsors on board. There was a time when no one believed in me. I have been rejected time and again. However, we have the sponsors now for the Everest expedition.

Future plans…

I want people to change their attitude towards physical challenges in Nepal. Whenever I give talks, I tell people to be more accepting. I will meet as many people as I can and create awareness on this issue in the future. I have plans to inspire, support and empower the disabled in Nepal. I have given 15 years and two of my legs to the UN and have done nothing for my country. I want to work for that 12-15% disabled population in the country. I am also planning to invest in Nepal in disable accessibility and children.