Home/ News / India/  I just look at the sea whenever in trouble, says Navy's Abhilash Tomy

New Delhi: “People don’t die because of injury, they die because they lose the will to survive." This is what being in the Indian Navy had taught Commander Abhilash Tomy who on 21 September last year suffered multiple spinal fractures after rough seas and powerful winds pummeled his yacht Thuriya.

Now back on his feet, Tomy said he was planning to get back to compete in the same Golden Globe Race in 2022, the 75th anniversary of India’s independence. If his sponsors let him have his way, he plans to name his new boat “Unfinished Business", Tomy said – a reference to the race he had been unable to complete last year.

Tomy, the only Asian to compete in the 2018 edition of the Golden Globe Race, seen as the most challenging endurance race on the planet, also added that the three days that he survived after his debilitating back injury were much easier than even one day in the Naval Academy in Goa – a remark that drew laughter from the audience at the 2019 Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi. The annual two day event was kicked off Friday with a speech by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In September 2018, Tomy had sailed into hurricane force conditions in the most remote and uncharted part of the Indian Ocean. He was sailing on a 40 foot boat without any of the modern technological tools available to sailors presently as the terms of the race demanded that he use technologies available in 1968.

Sailing more than 5,000 kilometres south of Kanyakumari, Tomy's boat was hammered by 14-metre-high waves with wind speeds touching 70 knots or 140-150 kilometres per hour. At one point, he was clinging to the top of the 9 metre long mast of his 40 foot boat and slammed his back as he fell on to the deck during the storm. Unaware of the serious nature of his injuries, Tomy started to clean up his boat, squatting for the process. It was when he tried to stand up that he realized his legs were not obeying the commands sent by the brain.

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Tomy said he managed to crawl to a bunk and secure himself on it. He then sent a text message to the organizers of the race alerting them about his condition – setting off a mammoth rescue exercise involving ships from multiple countries – something he said, he was unaware of at that time.

Waiting for rescue to arrive, “I had to make sure I was alive when rescue came, whenever it came," Tomy said, his compelling account drawing several rounds applause from the audience. “What the navy has taught me is that in any condition like this, it is the will to survive that matters. People don’t die because of injury they die because they lose the will to survive. But they (the Navy) don’t teach you how to get that will to survive. They don’t teach you but you get a lot of experience by being in the Navy," he said.

To keep his mind away from the worst, Tomy said he started going over in his mind the things that he would say and do when help did arrive – including a brief for the doctors when help did arrive. “I don’t blame the sea for anything that happens. Its my failure… the sea is predictable," Tomy said.

When rescuers found him, one of them asked for permission to board his vessel. “I was not sure I was hallucinating," Tomy said. Once rescued and brought back home, Tomy said a combination of therapeutic measures including unconventional means like kickboxing helped to get back on his feet.

To mark the anniversary of his accident Tomy this year took part in a 50 kilometre kayaking race in Goa, which he said he won.

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Updated: 07 Dec 2019, 12:50 AM IST
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