Bengaluru: For as long as she can remember, Pooja Bajaj has always loved bikes. The feel of the wind in the hair, the freedom of the open road and the calming hum of the engine, all of these are what enticed the 34-year-old to become a full-time biker two years ago.
Pooja’s journey started when she was a kid with a love for cycles. A state-level gold medalist in cycling from Uttar Pradesh, Pooja moved on to motor vehicles, mainly her dad’s Bajaj Chetak, when she was 14 years old. She then switched to motorcycles and from there onwards, there was no turning back.
Now, with around 1 lakh kms and over 12 years of biking experience under her belt, Pooja is by no means a novice. Like most bikers, she keeps up her fitness and prepares herself mentally before every ride. However, no amount of preparations could have helped her avoid what happened on June 22.
The accident and subsequent ordeal
While on a 12 day trip that took them through the Spiti Valley, in Himachal Pradesh, with 25-30 other bikers, Pooja crashed and severely injured her right clavicle (collarbone).
"On the 10th day of the 12-day trip, when we were close to reaching the destination, I suffered a motorcycle crash where my right clavicle suffered fractures in multiple places. One of the bone fragments had dislocated and moved into the thoracic region (chest area) but no one knew about this till much later," she told Newskarnataka.com.
Unfortunately for Pooja, there were no hospitals nearby and the group did not have a medical backup. She was already finding it difficult to breathe after the accident and with each passing hour, it got even harder for her to breathe.
"The nearest decent hospital was in Chandigarh, 48 hours away, but it took much longer to reach as there were no roads for most of the way and there were landslides along the route. The weather also made the journey quite difficult," Pooja explained.
With the help of a couple of her friends, a severely injured and pained Pooja managed to make it to Simla (Shimla) where she got a sling for support, after which she went to Kaza, where there was a government hospital. "The government hospital here had very basic X-ray equipment which wasn't able to pick up that a bone fragment had gone into the thoracic region. From there we travelled in a cab to Chandigarh. It took us around three days to reach Chandigarh. There, they took X-rays from several different angles and found that there was a bone fragment in my thoracic region. The doctor who examined me said that this kind of case occurs two in a year and the procedure to set things right is very complicated. So we decided to go to Bengaluru as that is where my family and I live," she said.
In Bengaluru, Pooja went to Manipal Hospital, where she was treated by Dr Dr. Hemant K. Kalyan, one of Bengaluru's top consultants in orthopaedic surgery and sports medicine. He is also a consultant and HOD of the Departments of Orthopedics & Sports Medicine at Manipal Hospital, Bengaluru.
Pooja finally received proper treatment, six days after her accident. In Bengaluru, she found out that one of her clavicle bone fragments had made it all the way into her thoracic region, which is what was making it difficult for her to breathe.
“If the bone had gone further, it would have pierced my lung and I would have choked to death,” Pooja explained.
They operated on her for five and a half hours and the surgery was a success. "They fixed a titanium plate on my collarbone with multiple screws. It was a complicated procedure but successful. The first thing I asked the doctor after the surgery was when I can get back to riding. He smiled at me as I was still under the influence of the anaesthesia," she said.
Journey back to health
Now that she was out of surgery and on the road to recovery, Pooja couldn't wait to get back out on the road.
Against the doctor's advice, Pooja began planning out her own methods to get back in shape to ride again. "I went to the gym on the fourth day after my surgery. My doctor advised me against it but I did it anyway. I started working on my lower body. I focused on my legs by doing squats and a few lunges. At this time I wasn't able to work on my upper body because there was too much pain and it had grown weak after the surgery. I then gradually started working on my stamina," she said.
Ten days after the surgery, Pooja tried riding a lighter CC bike and realised that she had still did not regained her balance. "I knew that I had to work harder. I kept at it and gradually started upper body exercises. On the 26th day, under the guidance of my doctor, I started to ride a bike. It was a light bike and I managed to ride it easily. I slowly kept on increasing the weight of the bikes that I rode. I started riding heavier and heavier bikes and increased the CCs also. I rode them in the city and on the outskirts of Bengaluru as well. After three months I started riding solo again," she explained.
"My family and friends asked me to stop riding bikes. In India, women are anyways not encouraged to do what I do and after this kind of injury, people started discouraging me from pursuing my passion even more," she said.
Pooja, however, knew what she wanted, and what she wanted was to start riding again. "I was very clear that I had to get back to riding because, for me, it is more than a passion," she explained.
Asked about the reactions of her friends from the biking community, Pooja said, “I got a lot of respect from the community. They told me that I was very inspiring.”
Message to the world
Asked what she wants people to learn from her ordeal, Pooja said, "I want people to not quit on their passion if or when something goes wrong. Never stop pursuing your passion.
"Today with the titanium rod and multiple screws covering my shoulder I ride with sheer determination, guts and pride. I carry a battle scar on my collarbone which tells the tale of my courage and perseverance. Mine is a story of passion, guts and fearlessness. I would love my story to serve as an inspiration for everyone, not just for women. I want people to learn how obstacles can serve to reinforce one's passion, how one can come back bolder, stronger and wiser. I have always believed that bravery is not a quality of the body but of the soul," she added.
To young women who want to ride bikes, Pooja says first learn how to ride a scooter or a scooty. "Once you are comfortable riding on a scooter and have the balance, ask your brother or friend, who has a bike, to teach you," she said.
The road ahead
Although she still battles the occasional pain while riding, Pooja manages to live with it. "I never skip my therapy exercises and calcium supplements. I try to avoid painkillers but I take them when the pain is unbearable," she said.
She has hit the road again and has even planned a few trips. This very weekend, she will be travelling to Goa to attend a biking event.
Pooja is now able to ride at least 500 kms a day, however, she has to take frequent brakes as constant riding strains her right arm and shoulder. "But I have learned to live with the pain and I even enjoy it," she said.
Asked if she has ever ridden outside India she said that she hasn't so far, but is in the planning process for the same.
Follow Pooja on Instagram to check out her rides and her progress at https://www.instagram.com/iampoojabajaj/
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