Aug 01, 2023

'Remarkable' crash survivor defies all odds to become personal trainer

Nearly five years ago, 23-year-old engineering student Amit Sharma was in a high-speed crash that took the lives of his two friends, left him near-dead and with no hope of ever walking again.

Today — now 28 and standing on two feet — he is a newly-trained and internationally certified personal trainer.

Between these moments in time were an estimated 64 broken bones — including a shattered lumbar spine — 13 surgeries, two months in hospital, a year of regular x-rays and two years of physiotherapy.

Nobody would know it just by looking at him, but as 1News recently met with Sharma in Auckland and saw him perform bench-presses and deadlifts, his sister Anmol Sharma watched on, knowing full well how cruel and arduous her brother's journey has been.

Sharma has used his story to not only guide his career, but to guide those he meets towards beating impossible odds, and going beyond.

"Every day all my clients come with a fear of moving forward in life and bearing physical or health issues, but after spending a half-hour with them, they start smiling and say 'okay, we are ready to do it'," he told 1News.

"Life keeps going on, that is the biggest reason why I became a personal trainer. I wanted to make people more strong mentally and physically."

The wrecked vehicle that Amit Sharma, Bikramjit Singh and Mukul Jaglan were driving in on October 29, 2018. (Source: Amit Sharma)

In October 2018, 23-year-old Sharma had been an engineering graduate from Unitec in Auckland for three months.

Having immigrated alone from India, he was eager to explore more of Aotearoa now that his studies were over.

Alongside his friends and fellow students Bikramjjit Singh, 22, and Mukul Jaglan, 21, Sharma left Auckland for the first time since arriving in the country and shared a car to Taupō to meet Jaglan's sister.

On the evening of October 28, the group began their trip back to Auckland. Jaglan sat behind the wheel and Sharma was about to sit up front with him, until he and Singh decided last-minute to trade places.

Laying in the backseat, the last thing Sharma remembered was seeing his friends' smiling faces before drifting off — a bittersweet memory that would comfort him in the years to come.

Around 5.20pm on State Highway 1 near Tokoroa, the car collided head-on with an oncoming vehicle.

Jaglan and Singh, both sitting up front, were immediately killed.

Sharma, the only survivor in his vehicle, was trapped in the back seat, firefighters having no choice but to tear through metal to pull him out the rear window.

He was flown to Waikato Hospital and went into a coma that would last seven days. He was intubated and immediately prepared for a 20-hour surgery to fix seemingly countless ailments — broken arms and legs, fractured ribs, a shattered spine and more.

From head-to-toe, his entire left side had been left shattered and bruised, doctors having little hope he would see the outside of the ICU ever again.

Side-by-side x-rays of Sharma's spine after his accident (left) and after surgery. (Source: Amit Sharma)

The next day, following a successful surgery, a team of doctors held a video conference with Sharma's mother, father and sister in India.

They discussed the state he was in and shared news no parent or sibling would ever hope to hear: Sharma would most likely die, and if he did survive, he would never walk again.

Three days after his accident, Anmol Sharma rushed to New Zealand from India and stayed by Sharma's side for seven months.

While unconscious and intubated, Sharma began physically responding "two to three days" after his first surgery.

He was making gentle movements above the waist — and to the astonishment of doctors, below the waist as well.

In a patient progress report two weeks after the crash, one doctor noted Sharma's ability to muster simple, tiny movements.

"He is wiggling toes on both feet today to command which is really quite astonishing given the severity of his lumbar spine injury," they wrote.

"He gives me the thumbs up. I kind of have to agree."

Amit Sharma in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Waikato Hospital. (Source: Amit Sharma)

Sharma remembers a day late into his stay at Waikato Hospital when doctors came into his room, carrying a list of his injuries "two to three pages" long.

They began listing off several injuries that he had recovered from.

"His recovery really is quite remarkable. I have mentioned this to Amit who I indicated that in the fullness of time we would be very keen to report his case in the medical literature using some of his images," a doctor wrote three weeks into Sharma's recovery.

However, during that same conversation doctors told him about the grim state of his spine for the first time.

"It was impossible for me to walk again as I had to work on my spinal strength," he later recalled.

"From that same day, I brought my laptop to the hospital and started studying why and how [to recover]... I knew I still had power in my legs.

"I got to know that not many people in this world have really recovered from these bad spiral injuries.

"I worked on myself, made some workout plans and I had a couple good physios as well with me, and they helped me a lot.

"With that, I did it," he sighed contentedly. "Yeah, I did it."

Anmol Sharma, left, with her brother Amit while he was wheelchair-bound. (Source: Amit Sharma)

Early into his recovery, Waikato Hospital doctors asked Sharma where he saw himself in two months.

"I see myself walking on a treadmill," he responded, receiving uncertain looks from the medical staff. After two months he had begun walking with assistance.

He later left Waikato Hospital wheelchair-bound and began a two-month tenure at ABI Rehabilitation in Ranui.

He continued to have check-ups at North Shore Hospital for the next year and saw a physiotherapist for nearly two years.

Once in good health, Sharma began working as a civil engineer, exactly what he had been studying for.

Amit Sharma standing on two feet without assistance for the first time since his accident. (Source: Amit Sharma)

But something felt off. Something told him this was not where he was meant to be.

"After [being in] hospital, I started feeling there must be a reason that I'm still alive and having this beautiful life again," he said.

"I found in myself that I'm really doing well with my injuries and was [told] 'you have a spine injury, most people [with the same injury] can't walk again or move their lower back again,' but in my case it's really something exceptional.

"While I was in a wheelchair it was already in my mind that if will be able to recover really well, then I will definitely try helping others as well."

He knows better than most that it seems impossible to return to normal life after a spine injury, but said recovery is intertwined with willpower.

"If you feel you can do it, you can definitely do it, you just need that motivation in yourself.

"That's why I chose to change my profession and I feel like a personal trainer is one of the best professions where you can help everyone with injuries, wanting to lose weight and wanting to get their fitness."

"The recovery I have done by myself, on myself, [I thought] this is something I should share with everyone.

"I started studying more about fitness... I wanted to share my experience... to make my passion into a profession."

Amit Sharma - who was told he would never walk again nearly five years ago - lifts 60kg standing up. (Source: 1News)

Sharma said it took him two years to return to the condition he was in prior to the crash.

Almost five years later he is now the strongest he has ever been in his life, both physically and emotionally.

While on the job, he said people are "shocked" when they hear his story.

"[With] most people I've seen, they just sit at home and lose that hope... but actually nothing is impossible, to be honest.

"I motivate my clients [by asking] 'is there anything impossible for you?' And they're like 'nah', so why not [try]?

"I know a couple of clients with knee injuries and back injuries... I listen to them nicely and [while showing recovery pictures] say 'this is my spine, and today I'm here doing most exercises by myself. If this can motivate you and give you that spark, then you should do it too'."

Much has changed for him since October 29, 2018, but he has not forgotten the friends who died next to him, and saw him off on a new chapter of life.

"The day [doctors] told me they were no more, that they passed away, it took me a long time to come out of that pain.

"I still miss them. I know they're seeing me from heaven. I still love them."

A split image of Amit Sharma after his accident in late 2018, left, and him in August 2023. (Source: 1News)

Looking ahead, Sharma said he is "fully satisfied" with life and knows many people are facing similar battles to his.

However, in his mind's eye, others' struggles are as "impossible" to overcome as his own.

"I did hard work and spent hundreds of hours in the gym... I'm proud of myself and where I am.

"Whatever happened to me is happening to everyone. In a normal day, someone is struggling with a family problem, a physical problem, [or] mental issues.

"Stay positive, and stay strong. That's it."

Watch Amit Sharma's incredible recovery in the video above.