Sachin Chamaria trusted his instincts and traveled from India to Shepherd Center for spinal cord injury rehabilitation. Today, he’s a national boccia champion with his sights set on Paralympic glory.
Boccia, for the uninitiated, is an adaptive Paralympic sport of skill and strategy played by athletes with neurological disorders, similar in format to bocce ball.
One of the emerging leaders in the craft is India’s Sachin Chamaria, a three-time national gold medalist in the sport. The New Delhi native has already represented his home country at international competitions in Italy, Poland, and the United Arab Emirates.
“Discovering this sport has given me such a sense of purpose,” Sachin says. “I didn’t know if I would be able to recapture my love of sports again after my injury.”
In 2008, Sachin sustained a C-4-to-C-5 spinal cord injury in a car accident. In the years that followed, he struggled to regain his independence and find an outlet for his competitiveness, which he had honed in his youth as a national-level taekwondo champion.
Sachin’s elder brother Rahul discovered Shepherd Center while visiting the U.S. in search of better treatment for Sachin’s injury. Sachin’s family was impressed with Shepherd Center’s capabilities — and even more so with its staff. After graduating from university in 2012, Sachin traveled to Shepherd Center. Here, he learned new ways to accomplish everyday tasks that had become daunting post-injury, like getting dressed, eating, and bathing. His pinch-and-grasp function improved significantly — an essential skill, incidentally, for the sport that would later change his life.
“Shepherd Center played a huge role in making me as independent as I am,” Sachin says. “Their expertise is impressive, and there’s no match for the modalities and resources they possess.”
Shepherd Center is also where he realized sport and adventure remained firmly in his grasp. He went water skiing for the first time, rode an all-terrain vehicle, did rifle shooting, and practiced adaptive driving.
“In a Ford truck, the real Southern experience,” Sachin notes with a laugh.
He was able to do this all with his family by his side, too, thanks to Shepherd Center’s donor-funded family housing options. His family’s presence alleviated Sachin’s trepidation about traveling globally for treatment in a foreign country.
Today, Sachin is excited to start his own family. He and his fiancée Kajal plan to marry in the coming year. Kajal is a dentist, while Sachin started his own company, Growealth Capital, which deals in the shares market, in 2018.
“I’ve always loved statistics and mathematics, so this was perfect for me,” he says. “I like it when my brain is constantly active. I cannot stand to sit idle!”
And when the work piles up, Sachin and Kajal hit the dance floor.
“Dancing is one of the best stress-busters for me,” Sachin says. “I’m human. We all feel low or frustrated sometimes. So, when that happens, we’ll call up friends, go to a club, and dance things out.”
Of course, boccia remains Sachin’s passion. He will represent India at this fall’s Asian Para Games in China. The next big goal is to qualify for the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris.
“Just representing my country on that stage would be such an honor, win or lose,” Sachin says.
Sachin also wants to use his platform to grow the sport. This year, he’s met twice with Penny Morrison-Ross, director of global initiatives at the Shepherd Center Foundation, about incorporating the sport in recreation therapy at Shepherd Center.
“We would love for Sachin to introduce boccia to our patients and help us bring the sport here,” Morrison-Ross says. “He’s been so helpful in spearheading this effort, one that could be very impactful for our current and future patients.”
Sachin is thrilled to bring boccia to a place that has meant so much to his journey.
“Because it’s not just a sport to learn, it’s recreation therapy,” he says. “And it can be a newfound purpose for people. It is so important to find new passions to motivate yourself. Life without purpose is no life at all.”
Written by Phillip Jordan
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Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.