Petty Officer Praveen Teotia, Shaurya Chakra, Naval Commando impresses Capt Seshadri with his sheer grit and determination to not let his disabilities interfere with this athleticism.
“I am a mean, keen, fighting machine’! The motto of the Commando. The words that motivate the man beyond anything else. “Commando”! The war cry that instils terror and sends shivers down the spine of the enemy.
That fateful day, the 26th of November 2008, when some of the most hardcore terrorists in the world took siege of the Taj Mumbai, Marine Commando Praveen Teotia was to enact those very words. Breaking into the stronghold of the insurgents, he took on the enemy in close quarter battle, and in the process took four bullets in the chest and ear, damaging his lungs and causing partial hearing impairment. For this act of extreme bravery against all odds in the face of the enemy, he was awarded the Shaurya Chakra, the third highest peacetime gallantry award.
As a permanently disabled sailor, having become unfit for normal battlefield duties, but being honourably decorated, he was promoted to the rank of Petty Officer and assigned desk duties. However, this commando, hailing from Bhatola village in Bulandshahr, remained a fighter at heart. Despite his dire medical condition, he applied for a mountaineering expedition, but was refused on medical grounds; but nothing could deter him from his fixed idea. He just had to prove his fitness. Through a few Taj Hotel staff who he had befriended during the action, he connected with marathon runner and trainer Pervin Batliwala. In 2014, under his guidance and encouragement, Teotia began training to run marathons.
Afraid of how the Navy would react to a possible failed bid to participate under their banner, he ran incognito in the 2015 Mumbai Half Marathon. The next year, he gutsily participated in the Indian Navy Half Marathon. His successes automatically led him to aspire for greater triumphs. He moved up to the Half Iron Man Triathlon in Jaipur, which entailed a 1.9 km swim, 90 km of cycling and a 21 km run. Despite these stupendous feats, Praveen was unsure and a bit nervous about how the Navy would react to the long leaves required for training and participation. So, with a point to prove that this was the same commando who had been severely injured while fighting extremists in the Taj, he opted for voluntary retirement from the Navy. Says Petty Officer Teotia: “After I was shot, doctors had given up on me. But I hung on for five months in the hospital and recovered, although my hearing was impaired.” He simply couldn’t give up at this stage.
Khardung La, in Ladakh, at over 18,000 feet, is the highest motorable pass in the world. Even the sturdiest and most powerful of motor vehicles struggle to battle the steep inclines. The rarified atmosphere tests even the fittest of persons with its low oxygen levels. However, this human machine seemed to have no such problems. On September 9, 2017, Praveen Teotia not only completed the 72 km Khardung La Marathon, but did so in 12.5 hours, well within the stipulated time of 15 hours. Coach Batliwala was amazed. “I have met very few with such willpower. Finishing Khardung La is no child’s play. I did it last year. The oxygen levels are low and it is doubly difficult for someone with a damaged lung. To do so well is a stupendous achievement.”
Praveen proved his coach wrong by actually making it child’s play, with yet another unbelievable achievement. It takes the most courageous and committed athlete from among the fittest of the fit to complete an Ironman, the gruelling event in South Africa, considered one of the most challenging courses in the world. This former commando set his sights and his heart on it. Kaustubh Radkar, one of the most successful Ironman finishers and a certified coach, took Praveen under his tutelage. Earlier this year, Praveen cycled 180.2 km, ran 42.2 km and swam 3.86 km to achieve that ultimate, endurance defying event, the Ironman Triathlon. A little past the three-quarter mark, the derailleur of his cycle gave way. The remaining portion of the sector was mostly uphill, but Teotia completed it despite an injured knee and ankle adding to his already damaged lung. With a bleeding leg, this incredible athlete ran the marathon and then swam his way to complete, in the process being the first disabled Indian Ironman.
Let’s face it. A true commando never fades away. He does or he dies.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.