Despite A Tragic Accident, Former Cricket Capt. Preethi Continues Training Young Girls From Her Wheelchair
- IWB Post
- December 3, 2017
At just 8 then, Preethi Srinivasan became the youngest girl to play in the State cricket team. Having a strong zeal, Preethi went on to get captainship of the Tamil Nadu state U-19 cricket team in 1997. She was also an accomplished swimmer.
Having been dreaming of playing in the national cricket team, Preethi never thought her life would take an 180-degree turn. It was on July 7, 1998, that she went to a beach with her friends in Pondicherry. Knee-deep in the water, suddenly she lost her balance and fell flat on her face. She tried hard to get up, but all her reflexes failed her. She was then pulled out by her friends who rushed her to the nearby hospital.
The doctors told her friends that she had broken her neck. Preethi was then given the tragic news that all her four limbs were paralyzed. She was in deep shock.
For years, she had been trying to find her place in a not-so-friendly country for people with disabilities. Today, Preethi helps over 20,000 quadriplegics through her organization Soulfree.
You have always been passionate about the cricket. What has been your favorite moment as a cricketer?
Ohh, it was in late ‘97 that under my captaincy, Tamil Nadu won the only national level tournament to date. It was an inexplicable feeling. I still have a video of that day, when I was interviewed by Doordarshan and how all my seniors were present there at the stadium to support and cheer for me.
That day has been my favorite cricket day!
Whoa! On that note, are you following the Women’s World Cup? Which player amazes you the most?
Mithali and Harmanpreet Kaur are my favorite. However, I had picked up the sport again quite recently when five girls from Tiruvannamalai approached me for coaching. I feel really happy to reconnect with the game.
In one of your previous interviews, you mentioned how your life completely changed after your father’s demise.
It was a very difficult time for us. My father was our connection to the outside world. Just four days after my father’s demise, my mother suffered a heart attack and had to undergo a bypass surgery. Those days were the hardest.
When my father passed away, my mom and I didn’t know what was there in the bank. I had to find a job. Would you believe that we didn’t even have a cell phone back then? My father used a CDMA phone which used to get so hot that I was afraid to use it. Honestly, the first time I used the phone was to inform people about his death.
You have found the strength within to be able to stand against all the odds. What things about life have you explored now?
My life has completely changed. Earlier, before the accident, I effortlessly excelled at everything I did. Not a shadow of failure ever touched me.
But otherwise, I feel I am a very better human being now. I am living an immensely purposeful life today. This life has taught me to be able to help, to become strong from within. The kind of struggles I face today, I don’t think I would have been able to cope with then. This second life is a divine opportunity for me. I have become spiritually aware of my body now. I have learned that life is nothing to be afraid of.
Talk about your family.
I believe I am alive because of them. They gave up everything for me. All of us moved from Chicago to Tiruvannamalai, and that was a very big decision. My parents never thought of putting me in a special home. They never let my self-esteem fall. They never let me feel worthless.
So often, families of people with disabilities hurt them with humiliating sympathy.
It is due to ignorance and lack of awareness that people tend to do certain things. There’s no rehabilitation center or government organization in India that can serve to needs of quadriplegics. Half learned knowledge leads to tragedies. According to American data, every 38 minutes a person suffers from a spinal cord injury; and in India, since the government has not even recognized spinal cord injury as a specific multiple disorder, we don’t even know how many people are suffering every day.
The people are not being rehabilitated, and their parents and caretakers lack information.
What were those things that you had to learn from the scratch?
I had to literally learn who I am all over again. I had to learn to use the computer all over again. I installed speech activity software in my system. The hardest thing was to explain my words through actions. I had to learn to hold things all over again.
When did the idea of Soulfree come about?
Soulfree happened in August 2013. When my mother underwent a bypass surgery, the scary question popped, what will I do when there’s no one to take care of me?
I started researching for rehabilitation centers. I found out that there was none. I felt that we, quadriplegics, were the invisible ones. Because of the lack of health care facilities in our country, the only option left with most people was to either commit suicide or live on the streets alone.
When I shifted to Tiruvannamalai, I heard about three quadriplegic girls who were cursed by their families, blamed for the late marriage of their brother and troubled to the extent that they consumed poison and killed themselves.
Then, I decided to start Soulfree because had I not done it, I would have been a part of the problem and not the solution. My mother encouraged me to be the change and start the first center in the country.
What about the funds?
Well, gradually, I started receiving invites from schools, colleges, and corporate organizations to give motivational talks. Apart from my travel and stay expenses, I don’t take anything. I ask them to directly donate to Soulfree.
At Soulfree, we give quadriplegics the financial aid of Rs1000/month for a year, and we have over 20,000 people associated with us. Apart from the monetary help, we also provide wheelchairs to people.
In addition to these, we help them never lose hope by connecting them with other quadriplegics.
What discrimination did you face after the accident?
A lot! I have had people come up to my parents and say ‘has it been like this since birth?’ So, before we realize, we become ‘it.’ For them, we are no more a living being. No more humans, and we don’t have brains to decide for ourselves.
Initially, I used to be heartbroken, but now it doesn’t matter.
Did GST on disability aids come as a shock to you?
It is a very sad decision for us. The government has put 5 percent tax on wheelchairs. Soulfree provides over 100 wheelchairs every year to users, and it is extremely ruthless on the part of the government to tax them. The politicians should be put in our bodies for 20 minutes and 20 seconds, and they would never be so ignorant again. Politicians have to realize that these people are needful and so should not penalize them.
We read you don’t like being called ‘wheel-chair bound.’ How have you redefined freedom for yourself?
Freedom and control are the biggest illusions people are living in. True freedom is when you don’t need or desire anything because then it is bondage. In being completely bound, I’ve learned what true freedom is. By dying a couple of times, I learned to be fully alive in the present moment, In being able to completely lose, I’ve got everything.