Sujith Koshy Varghese works in the treasury department at Emirates NBD but he is no ordinary bank employee. He has pulled a 1.25-tonne car with his bare hands, jumped out of a plane, given a TedX talk, released a rap song and is now a qualified personal trainer.
He is also in a wheelchair.
A cycling accident in Bangalore eight years ago left Varghese in a coma for three days and close to death. But with a combination of indomitable spirit and incredible doctors — a gruelling 18 surgeries were required in the aftermath — he survived. The road to recovery was paved with pain and suffering but for Varghese, whose zeal for life is infectious, the experience has been transformative.
“Gratitude is the most important thing I’ve learned since my accident. It’s not just a word, it’s a state of mind,” Varghese tells Livehealthy. “After the crash I was alone in hospital, with depression and nobody to talk to. I had a lot of time to reflect. I thought about the people I loved, the things I’d done. I was a racer in the prime shape of my life when this happened.
“Ultimately I was at a point where I had nothing more to lose so I said ‘screw this, I’m doing life’. Now every day I am grateful to have life back in my body. I want to give people that self-confidence. If I can do it in a wheelchair, pause and ask yourself what is stopping you. Man, the things I’d do if you gave me legs for five minutes.”
One of the key moments in Varghese’s recovery was his return to the gym three years after his accident. An increase in physical and mental strength went hand in hand as he rediscovered his self-confidence through fitness.
“It was very challenging as I was in really bad shape,” Varghese recalls. “I was very weak and there were so many exercises I couldn’t do so there was always a lot of improvisation. I would fall down trying to pick up weights or hit my head. I was totally imbalanced and remember feeling that 5kg was so heavy. It was a very gradual process but I didn’t give up.
“Fitness is what brought me back when I was broken down to zero, in the most helpless state I’ve been in, both physically and mentally. Many people of determination find themselves in this position, this starting point. And it is tough. But if you don’t do something about it, it is never going to change. Sometimes we need to take risks in order to move forward.”
The Dubai-born trainer has certainly embraced that philosophy. In a single week earlier this year he went scuba diving, skydiving, quad biking and jet skiing. As part of the 2018 Dubai Fitness Challenge he pulled a Mini Cooper weighing 1.25 tonnes live on Virgin Radio Dubai.
“We did it at a school in front of students,” Varghese recalls, smiling. “If most people were asked if a guy in a wheelchair could pull a car, they would say it’s impossible. But when you see the impossible happen, you start to question everything. What else can be done?
“For people of determination themselves, I think there is an understandable mental block – people tend to doubt what they are capable of. I’ve done some things that might have sounded crazy for the sole reason of showing people with determination that the wheelchair doesn’t have to stop you. I want to spark the idea in their heads that anything is possible.”
Varghese’s carpe diem mantra recently led to earning his Level 3 Personal Trainer certification, and he now wants to directly help people of determination with their fitness goals.
“Fitness gave me my confidence back, gave me my strength back and made me more independent in my life. It made me start to understand that life is still full of possibilities despite the limitations people think are there. This is the message I want to pass on to people of determination as a trainer.
“Over the years I’ve seen how putting my workouts on social media has inspired others to start living a healthier lifestyle – becoming a certified trainer was the next natural step.”
If the personal training doesn’t go to plan Varghese may have yet another string to his bow to fall back on. Last December he released his debut rap video on YouTube — a song that was fittingly named ‘Determined’. Given Varghese counts radio DJ Kris Fade and Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly among his chief supporters, a foray into entertainment was perhaps inevitable.
“Eminem and 50 Cent were my idols growing up and I used to print out the lyrics and stand in front of the mirror practicing rapping. I actually wrote Determined when I was in hospital in 2017 and later Kris played a version of it on his show.
“It kind of accidentally escaped out into the public when really I had written it for myself, but last year a production company used it for a documentary about people with determination and I think the response has been great.
“The song is empowering and that is how I feel in my life. I am now in a frame of mind where I see the good, even things that seem mundane like driving my car around Dubai. I see the beautiful buildings and I feel lucky to understand the value of life.”
Mark is a Dubai-based writer who has couch-surfed through Ukraine, broken bread with football fans in Basra, and appeared on a boxing reality TV show in the UAE – all in pursuit of a good story. Or at least an average anecdote.