Paralyzed rally driver Nikhil Sachania over racing after life-changing accident

Paralyzed rally driver Nikhil Sachania over racing after life-changing accident

Paralyzed rally driver Nikhil Sachania over racing after life-changing accident

Nikhil Sachania (left) with his navigator Deep Patel
Wheelchair user Nikhil Sachania (left) competes as a rally driver alongside navigator Deep Patel (right)

“I hit a ditch and I was thrown off the quad. The way I landed squeezed my spine. That’s where it broke.”

Kenya’s first paralyzed rally driver has never thought of quitting motorsport, despite a crash that caused his life-changing injury.

Instead, Nikhil Sachania will be on the starting ramp this year safari rallyexternal link will be flagged off in Nairobi on Thursday.

Considered one of the world’s toughest, the event is the sixth leg of the World Rally Championship circuit and the only one to be held in Africa.

“It was never a case of ‘This has happened because of motorsport, and I have to stop it,'” the 33-year-old told BBC Sport Africa.

“It made me think differently, that I can still go on.

“And I’m sure that motivates people to keep going too. I hope they think the way I think – that if he can do this, I can do something. It doesn’t have to be a rally.”

Sachania’s love of motorsport was nurtured at a young age when he saw his father compete in rally championships.

“I always went out to help him like a bribe boy, and I just understood what rallying is all about,” he says.

‘I didn’t feel my feet’

By the time he was a teenager, Sachania had had a taste for motorsport events, but when he was 22 he had an accident while training on a quad bike, which threatened his love for the sport.

“After the crash, I was conscious,” recalls Sachania.

“I realized there was something wrong with my feet, but with all the adrenaline pumping, I didn’t feel it was too bad.

“In my head it was like ‘Oh, my father is going to kill me. He’s going crazy’.”

Sachania was taken to a hospital in Nairobi after the accident, but they did not have the necessary equipment to perform the surgery he needed.

He was taken to a hospital in India, where doctors confirmed he would never walk again.

Nikhil Sachania is transferred to a hospital in India
Sachania Says Some Days During Rehab From His Quad Injury Was Overwhelming

“After my surgery I touched my feet and I couldn’t feel them. It was like a pile of stones hit me,” says Sachania.

“Someone helped me get ready, someone helped me shower, someone helps you get to the washroom, and then someone pushes me all the way to do my therapy, trying to learn how to get back to a normal life.” could get.

“It was crucial, especially those first few months, to understand that, yes, my life has changed, but there is a way to still live normal.”

For Sachania, staying positive was key during nearly eight months of recovery, but there were days that were overwhelming.

“My days would be: I don’t want to talk to anyone, I don’t want to go to rehab, I just don’t want to get up,” he says.

“I just want to sit, I just want to sleep. It was tough those few days.

“But you have to pick yourself up again. I had a lot of family and friends, so I was always around people who motivated me. I appreciate seeing this light at the end of the tunnel.”

Return to rally sport – with manual controls

Nikhil Sachania drives the Safari Rally Kenya 2021
Sachania and Patel finished 21st in Safari Rally Kenya last year

In 2014, three years after his accident, Sachania was back behind the wheel – this time in a rally car with handicap adjustments.

“It was one of the most exciting things I’ve done,” he says.

“When I first started it was a very simple hand control in my normal day-to-day car. And in my first rally car I just had a simple push-pull control built in.

“I was driving with one hand on the wheel and accelerating and braking with one hand. The first two days were a bit tricky, but once I got the hang of it it was second nature.

“In terms of agility and reaction time, that comes with training and experience.”

Sachania has since moved to a hand-operated only car, which he finds much easier to operate, with Deep Patel accompanying him in the cockpit as a navigator.

“Sometimes I just sit and watch him play with the wheel. It’s absolutely amazing,” Patel, who worked with Sachania three years ago, told BBC Sport Africa.

“He’s a big inspiration to me. Other people can’t believe someone in a wheelchair like Nikhil is racing a car, it’s absolutely breathtaking.”

Their driver-navigator relationship is unique because of Sachania’s disability.

“For me, he is the number one priority, no matter what happens,” explains Patel.

“During the last rally we got smoke in the car. I said park the car on my side so they have enough space on his side if he has to jump out or if I have to carry him outside.

“Those are the things we constantly think about. If we get a flat tire, it’s me who changes the tires. I take the burden of doing everything.”

positive take

Nikhil Sachania (left) and Deep Patel (right) win prizes
Sachania and Patel, pictured receiving awards in 2019, have been racing together for three years

This year, at this year’s Safari Rally, the duo will be among 15 cars competing in the national category, where they finished 21st last year.

Sachania hopes his continued participation in such competitions can inspire others, even if not everyone understands his motivation to drive rallies after his accident.

“I saw how people get inspired by seeing me, especially when I jump out of the car and people realize I’m in a wheelchair,” he said.

“I get a lot of people asking me ‘How do you drive?’ and say it’s great And then you get the other side where they say, “Are you crazy? Why are you doing this? You have your injury in motorsport’.

“I block all that and try to take in all the positives.”

Sachania has refused to let his misfortune dictate what he can and cannot do, ensuring that he enjoys a variety of experiences.

“I’ve done bungee jumping. I’ve been diving with sharks. I’m a certified diver. I rally. I go to work. All in all, I haven’t had any hiccups where there’s something I can’t do.”