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The flying visionary
Nirmolika Sangha | Tuesday, 10 November 2015 AT 09:21 PM IST
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The biggest challenge to persons with disabilities is not the disability itself, we’ve long accepted our disability. The biggest challenge is social attitudinal barriers,” says Divyanshu Ganatra, a clinical psychologist, who became India’s first solo pilot to fly a paraglider last year. Gantara, who is visually impaired himself, realised that this was a great way to break stereotypes. He went on to start Adventures Beyond Barriers, an organisation that puts together adventure sports for people with disabilities, as well as able-bodied people. We caught up with him about his work...

How did you get into adventure sports?
I have been associated with adventure sports right from my childhood. At the age of 19 when I lost my eyesight, there were other things that took priority. I had to relearn many things. Adventure sports was one of those things that I couldn’t do because nobody believed that someone with a disability could engage in adventure sports. For a long time, I did very little. As life progressed, I found people who were willing to engage with me in adventure sports. I wanted to take flying lessons, but couldn’t find anybody who would give them to me. They were ready to give me a joy ride, but I wanted to learn to fly. Finally, last year, I met an instructor who believed I could do it. I trained and then took my solo flight.

What prompted you to start Adventures Without Barriers?
The impact of my solo flight was tremendous. The word spread and the kind of reach it had was beyond my wildest dreams. I was doing it for the love of it, but what ensued was surprising. There were lots of persons with disabilities who were calling me, writing to me, along with pilots and other people. I realised this is a great way to break stereotypes. People have this attitudinal barrier towards us because they know nothing about our lives. How will empathy develop if these two communities don’t meet? I felt sports was a good way to unite these communities, have them play together. The rest of the transformation happens as a by-product, sports is just a tool. That’s when we decided to set it up formally, set up a non for profit organisation.

Which sports does Adventures Without Barriers offer?
We have five verticals currently. One is marathons, we organise marathons across India, for both able-bodied people and people with disabilities. Second, we do trekking, mountaineering and camping. Third is scuba diving, we give an international open water certification. Fourth, we also do tandem cycling, which is cycling for two, where for the first time in India, blind people are getting to participate in competitive cycling and long distance cycling. The fifth is paragliding. When we do these events, there are a large number of able-bodied participants and that creates awareness and engagement. When we run marathons, a lot of times, people with disabilities have timings better than the others, that itself creates a lot of awareness.

How was the experience of being on the show Aaj Ki Raat Hai Zindagi and meeting Amitabh Bachchan?
In one word --- ‘Overwhelming’. The first thing that I noticed about Amitabh Bachchan was that he is a thorough professional. Everything is done in one take, no retakes, he comes very well prepared. He knows exactly what to do. That’s something that struck me. Someone at his age and stature is working so hard, it is extremely inspiring. Also, he is very humble, he doesn’t have to do anything to prove a point. I’d heard about these things but I got to experience them first hand.
 
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