Vasu Sojitra lost his right leg at nine years old from a blood infection, but that never stopped him from becoming a professional backcountry skier and U.S. Amputee Soccer Team player. At All-School Meeting (ASM) on April 7, Sojitra spoke to the Andover community about his hope to make nature accessible to all, regardless of one’s ability or identity.
In his talk, Sojitra explained the origin of the term “ninjasticking” — engaging in physical activities on one leg with the help of forearm crutches — in addition to his experiences as a South Asian and disabled athlete. Although he had the option to use a prosthetic leg to assist his mobility, Sojitra chose to solely rely on forearm crutches instead.
“Within the adaptive sports world that I have worked in for 20 plus years now, there’s this idea of utilizing disabled equipment to give people. That’s just not the case, that’s not what works for people, especially with people with disabilities, but also for folks who are larger, folks who are taller, anything in between. Everyone has different needs and desires to navigate life and that’s what the idea of ninjasticking to me has turned into,” said Sojitra.
Amelia Vinton ’23, a member of Advocates for Diverse Abilities, appreciated Sojitra’s visit as an opportunity for representation, due to the lack of people with physical disabilities on campus. Vinton also reflected on the various aspects of Sojitra’s identity that allowed him to connect to the student body.
“What really stuck out to me was how many people in the audience he could connect with. He has the potential to connect with athletes, people who are involved in [Outdoor Pursuits], people who are involved in any sort of social justice work. I think that gave him even more of interest and really emphasized the intersectionality of what he was talking about,” said Vinton.
As a backcountry skier, Sojitra emphasized the importance of teamwork when making trips in challenging terrain, such as the mountain peaks of Denali and Cotopaxi. While there are no official records available, Sojitra is believed to be the first person with a disability to complete a descent of Denali, standing at over 20,000 feet of elevation.
“A lot of these experiences are super overwhelming and scary, but at the same time, I know that I have a support system there to walk me through the process anytime I feel overwhelmed or anxious or wanting to turn around. These successes are possible because of the teamwork that we’ve created in the mountains… Always looking back, checking on each other, and asking questions, that’s the idea of backcountry travel,” said Sojitra.
Ashiq Kibria ’26, a member of South Asian Society, had the opportunity to ask Sojitra a question during ASM, and later attended a conversation with him in the Mural Room. Kibria noted how Sojitra’s accomplishments were also accredited to the help he received along the way.
“I felt that it was overall a really good message because it emphasized the idea that you can’t do everything alone. You always need help no matter how small or little. He talked about how his family really helped him through his career, especially his friends too. He mentioned how some of them were also disabled or had disabilities [and how] he really [connected with] them,” said Kibria.
To end, Sojitra posed a question for people to consider, encouraging the audience to think about what they were truly inspired to do.
“Based on me being disabled, there’s a lot of talk around inspiration porn and me being inspirational. But ideally, I always leave people with this question, ‘What are you inspired to do?’ For me, I’ve always loved people to be more inspired to see more people like me out there, breaking down those barriers and helping all of us access what is human, which is our natural landscape,” said Sojitra.
Laura Warner, Director of the Academic Skills Center and Student Accessibility Services, was impressed by Sojitra’s activism and athleticism. Warner reflected on Sojitra’s closing statement at ASM.
“I would hope that people would think more broadly about sports and what it means to be an athlete [compared to] less narrowly [that] you have to play a certain type of sport like basketball or soccer. Also, I think his message was pretty clear that we’re not featuring disabled athletes or people with disabilities to make others feel sorry for them, but really to think about innovation and changing the barriers that we put up as a society,” said Warner.
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