With cricket stadia in India being largely inaccessible to wheelchair-bound people, 27-year-old Maithili Gaikwad knew that the one time she could fulfill her dream of seeing Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, and the other Indian cricket stars up close would be during the T20 World Cup bus parade at Marine Drive on Thursday.

Maithili suffers from Spina Bifida, a condition where the spinal cord does not develop properly in the womb. She does not have any sensation from waist down and had to depend on her colleagues — she’s an HR at Tata Power — to bring her to the Marine Drive promenade.

With the roads being cordoned off because of the parade, Maithili and her colleagues just couldn’t arrange transport to get to Marine Drive. She remained undeterred though. Having faced countless obstacles all through her life, her colleagues weren’t going to let transport be the deterrent. They pushed her wheelchair through the 3km odd journey and though it took a good 40 minutes, they made it and found a good spot just opposite Trident Hotel.

Having reached the spot at 3.45 pm, she waited anxiously, her colleagues alongside her, for four hours just to catch a glimpse of the Men in Blue.

“It was worth the wait. To see Rohit, Virat, and Jasprit Bumrah with that trophy was surreal. I thought that the crowd would block my view, but nobody pushed me and I could fulfill my dream,” Maithili told The Indian Express.

Despite being born with the condition, Maithili has always been inclined towards sports. She has tried to watch the Indian team play at a stadium but says it’s almost impossible for wheelchair-bound people.

Festive offer

“There are no stadia that are wheelchair accessible. Once they invited me for a women’s game but I couldn’t see anything because of the barricades,” she said.

Her dream of seeing the Indian stars may have been fulfilled, but Maithili says she won’t rest till she sees her ultimate dream of seeing the country become more wheelchair friendly.

India T20 World Cup victory: Fan Maithili Gaikwad With the roads being cordoned off because of the parade, Maithili and her colleagues just couldn’t arrange transport to get to Marine Drive. (Express photo by Anil Dias)

“Even for this bus parade, there were no arrangements for wheelchair-bound people and honestly, we have stopped expecting it. But it shouldn’t be this way,” she said.

Maithili says that while she’s fortunate to have family that is extremely supportive, it’s taken time to find a clique of friends that she can count on.

“From the time I was young, it was difficult to maintain friendships because I can’t really go out with people. In that way, I get left behind. But now I’m part of a group of people with similar disabilities so we understand each other’s problems well,” says Maithili, who also reveals she had to travel for 7km in an electric wheelchair to go to college every day “come rain come sunshine ”.

“I wanted to study and wasn’t going to let anything stop me. School was the most difficult as people couldn’t accept me in a normal school. They said I belonged in a special school. Thankfully I didn’t pay heed to them and now I’ve even completed my MBA in HR,” she says with a smile. Through all her difficulties, it’s sports that has kept her spirit up.

“I live in a wonderful colony in Chembur where we have access to different kinds of sports. I go swimming every day as it’s also therapeutic for me. I play badminton every other day. In fact, I’ve played para-badminton at the state level too. The dream is Paralympics and while I’m doing my best, I don’t think I’m at that level yet,” she says.

She’s tried her hand at cricket too, though she says it’s difficult for her to pursue it professionally.

Her one dream of seeing the cricketing superstars in person may have been fulfilled on a rainy Thursday evening at Marine Drive, but Maithili says she has plenty of unfulfilled dreams.

“My ultimate goal is to teach in rural areas of India. There’s this Teach for India program that I want to join. Although I’m in a wheelchair, I feel I have plenty to give.”