Kenny was lifting the ball cleverly with his foot and sending it speeding across the wet football field but not letting it fall into opponent hands.
The 16 year-old had shown remarkable agility. His stretched sinews and taut, rippling muscles made him move quickly like a leopard on its feet as he drove
the ball aggressively into the goal post.
‘Yey!’ screamed the young crowd around the football ground, enjoying the skilfully played shots.
Once, twice, thrice, the ball entered the goal post unhindered. The exhilarated crowd clapped lustily and yelled out his name cutting through the evening twilight like an arrow. Today, he seemed invincible and unconquerable like Pele and other greats.
A sharp pain shot through Kenny’s right knee and travelled up into his leg. Unable to stand, he found his knee had buckled under him. He collapsed helplessly like
a house in an earthquake.
‘ I must get up and hit the ball and take my team to victory’. ‘Help me James. His partner helps him stand. Kenny hits the ball once more-- this time with his left leg. Then he falls unconscious to the ground. The Coach stops the play.
Kenny is carried by the boys and laid to one side where he is rendered first aid but seeing his face contorting with intense pain, the Coach realizes it is a deep injury.
He calls his older brother, Ben, to the College ground. Together, they take him to the Doctor.
A number of investigations follow. The matter is serious. The final diagnosis is: There is no injury but there is cancer. Shock sits on three faces.
‘You can take chemotherapy but the cancer will spread unless you get your leg amputated,’ the Doctor tells the budding footballer. ‘Besides, cancer in the knee, a
secondary malignancy is also to be seen in the lungs.’
Kenny and Ben were orphans who stayed together. Kenny asks for time to make up his mind for the amputation. He accompanies his brother to another oncologist and takes a second opinion. Unfortunately the diagnosis does not change.
Amputation is finalized as the first line of treatment, followed by chemotherapy six weeks later.
Kenny once bursting with energy and hormones, is lying supine in the hospital after his operation. A fierce battle is raging in his head. He imagines that both his legs
are intact but in place of his amputated leg, he experiences excruciating ghost pains.
Kenny is a mentally tough boy. He sends for his priest and speaks with him.
‘I am a sports person, Father. I can't be in bed all my life’.
‘Yes, my son. But if you accept your experience positively, you will be able to plan your future calmly and sensibly.’
Kenny understood his wise words.
Ben was in the Army. He learnt of the hydraulic knee prosthesis and suggested it to Kenny. Kenny was overjoyed. ‘Yes, Ben. I want it. I’ll walk, I’ll run once again.’
A couple of month’s practice and Kenny became adept in his use of the prosthesis. He learnt to dance and cycle with it. Though sometimes the hydraulic foot would suddenly get compressed, it could not dampen Kenny's
spirits. He would laugh and say, ‘What if it collapses? It also comes up as quickly’ and add, ‘What is life but failure and rising after the fall?’
Cycling became his new hobby. He began cycling daily three miles early morning on deserted roads. Gradually he went up to 20 miles in an hour, making it a practice.
He cycled alone for some months. Then Ashok, Bunty and Jamshed joined him from the neighbourhood and the foursome became regulars. They continued to cycle through their college years, sometimes venturing out to nearby towns and cities as well.
After graduation, the friends decided to go cross country. They chose to cycle to picturesque Shillong in the far East of northern India. The journey would take
them seven days to complete.
One fine morning they set out on their shining bicycles. They enjoyed every moment of their trip, meeting people of different communities, learning about their ways,
sharing their hospitality, making memorable friends.
As they neared the hilly terrain, cycling became more strenuous but the group, including Kenny, pedalled on. Then it began to rain heavily. They cycled five to seven
miles with the rain lashing their faces and bodies harshly. This proved hard on Kenny. There came a point when he felt he couldn’t go on.
He urged his friends to go ahead and finish the journey. He sat for a while by the roadside wanting desperately to complete the last lap like the other members but unable to in the rain.
Then he told himself, ‘I don't want to lose the opportunity of visiting Shillong just because of a small handicap.’ Once again, he braced himself. ‘Come on Kenny. It's all a mental game. Give it your best shot. You have to complete the journey. Just five miles more to go.’
As if in answer to his wish, the rain stopped. The sun began to shining. Kenny rose, sat on his cycle and began pedalling. Half an hour later, he had reached his friends. They clapped and cheered him, on seeing him join them. They had completed their trip as a group.
His friends were delighted to have him with them and gave him some bumps to celebrate his super achievement.
Kenny’s face was brimming with joy, his smile sat like a bow across his face. It was always there no matter what went wrong. His philosophy of life was ‘If we are strong, physical challenges are no challenges’.
The group celebrated the successful conclusion of their journey with hot pakora sandwiches and freshly boiled tea which they had at a wayside stall. Their happiness
knew no bounds and their loud voices floated out to the east, west, north, and south of the hills. Their jokes and laughter echoed merrily in those green hills as they took
selfies of their group with the local people. They wanted to share their joy with the world.
Next day, they started on their return journey well before sunrise.
Going downhill was easier and exhilarating. They rode making light talk, cracking jokes and sharing banter. In three days they returned to their home town Solapur.
They cycled in a row as they entered the city. A rousing welcome was given to them by their neighbours. Kenny was their hero. Many friends joined them and carried them on their shoulders, especially Kenny whose spirit of indomitable resilience always inspired them. More groups vowed to take up cycling. He had made the unachievable achievable. The cyclists' group announced their next plan to cycle to Norway, Finland and Switzerland, leading the crowd to cheer for them more loudly than before.
Over the years Kenny had learnt to drive an automatic car and had bought one. Eager to meet Ben who had been recently posted to Pune, he took out his car, filled it with gas and left for Pune the same afternoon.
A cloud burst inundated Pune that evening causing untold mayhem to nature, animal and human life. Rain of the ferocity never before seen had taken the city by surprise.
Every road was flooded. The lights had gone out everywhere and plunged the place in total darkness.
Around 9:00 p.m., Kenny called his brother mobile and asked him for his address.
It was his first visit to his brother’s new house. It was raining heavily and pitch dark.
Ben answered his call, ‘Hi, Kenny. Good to hear your voice, man. Where are you?’
Kenny barely had time to reply ‘I don't know’ when a huge wave of water entered his car from the nearby flooded river and carried away his mobile. Kenny’s car stalled.
The bridge under his car collapsed suddenly and both were swept into the racing, swirling waters.
Kenny tried to get out of the car but his hydraulic knee got stuck against the steering wheel. The door of the car suddenly flew open as Kenny jerked himself free of
the prosthesis. He was thrown out. Kenny found himself swimming fast with the current, holding up his head high, determined to save himself.
He lifted his head still higher, took a deep breath of air and then holding his breath continued to swim faster and faster. He had resolved to win the physical challenge.
He lifted his head again, took a deep breath and travelled onwards for many miles. He wished to reach safety.
Faster and faster and faster he went on with the river. He saw no riverbank, only water.
But there was hope. He hoped to win because though a non-swimmer, he treated swimming as if it was cycling. His leg and arms were moving in the swollen river .’I can’t give up. Just a little more and I will make it.’
‘Come on,’ he told himself, ‘Swim faster. You can make it’.
He was hitting out in the water, hitting at boulders and stones. He had reached miles away from the original spot where he had begun. The angry river was urging him forward.
He’s been swimming in the torrential rain throughout the night.
It was morning now. A sudden calm was felt. The tired river had at last slowed down.
So had Kenny. It was quiet, peaceful, serene. The trees and bushes were standing still in the water. The sun was streaming gently.
Kenny was now on a grassy patch. Villagers trickling into their fields found him there, bruised pieces of flesh, half a face, one lone finger. They took time to understand the
situation. ‘Look, look, they cried out loudly. Remains of a dead body. Must have come down .with the river. Seems to have come from far off.
Kenny had breathed gallons of water with his first breath as he was swept out of the car and died two minutes later. But the battle in his mind to meet the new challenge had raged until the villagers found him on the grassy patch in the morning. He had won.