Hitesh the fighter

Hitesh at a cerebral palsy football friendly tournament in Vienna, Austria in 2013.

His parents figured out that something was wrong when Hitesh Ramchandani was two years old. He could not crawl.

They sought the opinion of several doctors.

The answer they got brought their world down - Hitesh was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects muscles, movement and motor skills.

His parents wasted no time in finding out how best to improve his condition so they sent him for occupational therapy, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and massages to loosen his muscles and improve his ease of movement.

Said the 23-year-old, who recently published a book on the challenges he overcame to lead a normal life: "From the age of three, therapists have been omnipresent in my life."

As a toddler, Hitesh had to be fed with tubes, as he would choke on food.

"My mother used to spend hours each day to make me drink a bottle of milk because she had to ensure that I did not choke because of my weak lungs," he said.

While children of his age ran around freely, he faced problems sitting upright and walking.

Said Hitesh, who has a younger sister Natasha: "The first time I learnt how to walk was when Natasha was two and I was six.

She started walking and I was surprised. If she could walk, then why couldn't I? Seeing her walk spurred me on and I finally started to walk."

Felt left out

Battling cerebral palsy was not easy for Hitesh, especially during his childhood.

He remembers feeling left out while his primary school classmates cycled freely at the beach as he did not know how to ride a bicycle.

While a normal child would learn to cycle in a few weeks, he took exactly 91 days to do it. Said Hitesh: "I used to practise cycling under my condominium every day after school.

Each day, I would come home with bruises on different parts of my body but I never gave up.

"One day I was practising near the swimming pool when I ended up in the pool with my bicycle. I was so embarrassed because so many people were watching."

Nevertheless, he told himself: "Never mind, I will try harder tomorrow."

Hitesh had developed an attitude of perseverance. He said: "If I had given up on the 90th day, then I would have never seen the 91st day."

As if coping with his physical disability was not arduous enough, he was also bullied and looked down on by children of his age. He was seen by some friends as an "alien who could not walk and talk properly".

Said Hitesh: "One day I went home crying and my father read me a quote: 'A true champion is not a person who knocks others down but one who, despite getting knocked down countless times, still gets up and gives a fight'." This, he said, not only toughened him up, but has also become tattooed in his brain.

At the age of 17, he decided to take up kickboxing to be stronger. "I feel martial arts is the best weapon to shield and protect yourself both mentally and physically and that was what I needed," he said.

Football his favourite sport

He also makes it a point to train by doing physical activities such as yoga, physiotherapy, running, gym exercises, swimming and football for at least two hours a day.

Said Hitesh: "I have to train every day so my muscles remain loose and so I can stay in shape.

The harder I train, the better my chances of my condition improving."

But Hitesh, who is currently pursuing a sports science degree at Edinburgh Napier University at the PSB Academy here, says his favourite sport is football.

"It's not only a team sport which helps me connect with others but it also keeps me fit and stirs emotions!" said the avid footballer, who idolises Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo.

He pursued his love for the sport by joining the Singapore Cerebral Palsy football team.

He competed in the 7th ASEAN Para Games in Myanmar and the Incheon Asian Para Games, both held last year.

Said the cerebral palsy team's national coach Mohamed Zainudeen: "This boy is an inspiration to many.

Despite his limitations, he is not afraid to go in for tackles. Even when he falls, he is always ready to get up and resume his role as a player."

Even though Hitesh was exempted from National Service, he still wanted to use the time after his

O levels to improve his movements. So his parents sent him to Jaipur for 11 months where he followed a strict regime of yoga, speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy for seven hours daily.

Said his father Ganesh Ramchandani, 53, who runs an energy and coal resources company: "When he came back, there was a very obvious change in him - his physique, appearance and confidence level had improved vastly!"

His father added that he and his wife Bina never treated Hitesh any differently from their daughter.

Despite facing tiresome issues with movement, Hitesh also wanted to overcome his fear of public speaking.

He makes it a point to manage the fear by giving motivational talks at Toastmasters Club of Singapore (a club that trains speakers and improves their public speaking skills) and Great Eastern Life Assurance.

Good role model

Hitesh's childhood friend Jivan Tulsiani recalled an incident about Hitesh's fear of public speaking: "I once met him after school and he seemed very stressed.

I asked him 'What's wrong?' He said he had to do a presentation the next day in front of 30 classmates and he said there was no way he could do it.

But look at how far he has come. He gave a speech in front of 300 people at his book launch!"

Hitesh's autobiography Better Than Normal was officially launched on April 17 at the Singapore Swimming Club.

Gracing the occasion was CEO of Singapore Indian Development Association Kumaran Barathan and author of self-help books Shiv Khera.

The book launch was attended by friends and family.

At the launch, Mr Khera described Hitesh as a "phenomenal role model".

Mr Barathan said: "I think Hitesh is a good example of a youth who overcame all the adversities and did not let his difficulties set him back."

The book encapsulates elements of his personal journey and tackles the issues faced by cerebral palsy sufferers on a daily basis.

On his book title, Hitesh said: "My parents always encouraged and motivated me.

They always told me I could be anything and I could be the best.

That's how they instilled a positive attitude in my mind. They told me 'Don't worry. Who cares about being normal?

You are better than normal!' That's how I was inspired to make the words of my parents the title of my book."

Time management important

When asked how long it took him to write the book, Hitesh quipped: "23 years!" In his book, the young author also highlights the lack of understanding and acceptance of cerebral palsy in society and states that "that it is only the perception of others that makes disabled people feel different".

With so much on his plate such as setting aside time to train his body, practising football with the national cerebral palsy team, giving motivational talks, studying for a degree and having written a book, how does he juggle his priorities and time?

Said Hitesh: "I come up with a goal plan of my main priorities and I list them. Then I divide my time. You've got to alter your time management according to your goals and just give it your best."

So what's brewing for the young author now that his dream book has been launched?

Said Hitesh: "I hope to conquer my fear of public speaking and become an international motivational speaker."

amritak@sph.com.sg


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