The journey of Sharath M Gayakwad, a Paralympian swimmer and Arjuna awardee is one of grit and determination. Read on to know about his extraordinary journey.
By Monali Bordoloi
If you need a living example of how perseverance and hard work can bring laurels, recipient of Arjuna Award, Sharath Gayakwad is the perfect candidate. In 2003, at the young age of 12, he won two gold medals in his very first swimming competition. Since then, there has been no looking back. Sharath began winning multiple gold medals at various swimming meets held across India.
Mentioned in the list of Forbes' 30 Under 30 Asia 2017, Sharath finished ninth in the 100m butterfly event. He broke sprinter PT Usha’s record for the most number of medals by an Indian at any multi-discipline event. Sharath achieved this in the 2014 Asian Para Games by winning six medals.
Born with a deformed hand, Sharath not only overcame his limitations and scaled great heights in the field of swimming, but also dedicated himself to training young swimmers for competitions. Today, every morning and evening, you can find Sharath by the deck of a swimming pool of an aquatic centre in South Bengaluru training swimmers. His students include 8-year-olds to 20-year-olds.
An inspiration to all, Sharath believes in giving his best in whatever he does. Now, he inspires his students to work hard and give their best, and that winning and losing in a game does not matter. With this passion to train young kids, Sharath religiously chalks out a training plan for his students when they prepare for swimming competitions.
On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, ParentCircle got talking with the spirited sportsperson about his background and how his exemplary journey began.
What made you choose swimming?
I learnt swimming in 4th standard in my school. Since I did well, both my parents and teachers encouraged me to continue it. From 2003, I began advanced swimming classes and participated in many swimming events.
How did you overcome your physical limitations initially?
I am a positive person, I never let my physical limitations come in the way of my dreams. As a kid, I sure had a few problems, but with regular practice, I overcame those difficulties. I never let anyone think that I couldn't do things on my own because of my limitations. I have always been independent in doing things in my day-to-day life.
While I was learning to swim, my coaches were good and trained me to work at my comfort level. From then on, I've never had any problem with my disability.
What is your fitness regimen?
My morning coaching classes are from 5:50 to 8:30 a.m. and evening practice from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Apart from swimming, I also ensure my students are exposed to other fitness workouts such as gym exercises, running and stretching. While 3 to 4 hours a day go in swimming, the rest of the time goes in running, exercises, stretching, etc.
You inspire a lot of youngsters. Who is your inspiration?
My inspiration and role model is Ian Thorpe, an Australian Swimmer, who has won five Olympic Gold Medals.
What are your future plans?
I am working closely with a non-profit organisation, namely Blufin Foundation. We are trying to raise awareness around para sports, particularly among underprivileged kids who are keen on taking up sports. We are planning to support them in their training throughout their career. We are concentrating on the grass roots level of sponsorship.
How do you spend your free time?
In my free time I love to watch TV shows. I often hang out with my friends and we go out for ice cream, dinner or watch movies together. I enjoy playing with small kids in the swimming pool.
What is the role of your coach and parents in your achievements?
My coach, John Christopher, and my parents are the main reasons for my success. For them, it doesn't matter if I win or lose a race. They always cheer and encourage me.
What is your message to the youth?
I always tell this to my students — whether you win or lose the race, even if it is by a fraction of a second, the only thing that matters is that you have given your best performance. If you have not performed well, try to work harder and give a better performance next time.
This applies to anyone in any field, be it sports or academics. It doesn't matter whether you come first or last in any competition; what matters is that you keep working hard and keep giving better performances than your last one. Also, you must always be mentally strong and stay calm in any situation — good or bad.
What is your most memorable performance?
One of my most memorable performances was at the 2010 Asian Para Games, China, where I won a bronze medal and at the same time qualified for the 2012 London Paralympic Games. Participation in the London Games is another highlight of my life.
Above all, receiving the Arjuna Award from the President of India is one of the highest points of my career.
Despite life's obstacles, Sharath has not only overcome them but also triumphed in his strides. In the process, he has made memorable memories and accomplishments that make all of us take notice of his strong spirit. Share his inspirational story with your children, to make them believe that all it takes to achieve your dreams is true grit and willpower.
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