“Sport is all about patience! Challenges and disabilities are the part of everyone’s life. The one who has a single-minded dedication to his/her goal always succeeds,” says Sharath Gayakwad.
Sharath Gayakwad has become the first Indian to win six medals in the multi-disciplinary sports event at the Asian Para Games in Incheon, South Korea in2014. He has also broken the record of the renowned sportswoman, P.T Usha, who has won 5 medals at the Asian Games, 1986.
Sharath was born with a deformed left hand; it was unusual for a person like Sharath to choose his career in sports. He said, “When I was nine years old, the Little Flower School in Bangalore made swimming compulsory for everyone. Of course, I had a problem, so they asked me to take things slowly. So I started paddling and then eventually learned how to swim properly. My school also let me practice so I slowly got better and better.” The progress in the swimming was spotted by his teacher, who later became his coach.
“My parents made a lot of sacrifices for me, and I’m grateful for it. I was lucky to find sponsors like Gosport Foundation, Jain University who helped me out. However, the some doesn’t apply for all Para sports in India. There is infrastructure, but the way it is being governed is not right. We should concentrate on tapping the young talent. We have to make it a culture to create a system, right now administratively, it is being governed by Sports Authority of India.”
After a lot of research and knowledge on the techniques of the swimming’s, Sharath grabbed the skills and won 4 gold medals in the national event, and after that he got the confidence to take up swimming as a career. The reason for choosing this career was that he was in love with it, and secondly, he was good at it. In the initial days, his family was not ready for his career choice but by seeing his determination and love for the sport made them change their decision. Sharath has won over 39 international medals and 55 national medals so far.
“It is a part of me and I have accepted it and even found a way where it doesn’t matter anymore. Yes, I am at a disadvantage, but it doesn’t stop me from doing anything that I actually want to do.” He says about his disability. There was a time when he thought of giving up and retiring because of a shoulder injury, but after an encouraging and long talk with Rahul Dravid, he changed his mind. Latterly, he becomes the first Indian Swimmer to attain the qualifying time for London Paralympics, in 2012. Sharath also holds the Asian record in the category in 2 events- 50m Butterfly, 50m Breaststroke.
Dedicating his life to swimming, his main motive now is to teach his techniques and skills to the future athletes of India. “How many people have a talent that can save someone’s life? Which sport enables you to help others? It is swimming. It is not just a sports activity but a life-saving skill and that is why I am so fond of it,” he proudly added.
Today, Sharath says that providing coaching to the children is a bigger responsibility to shoulder than one’s own career ambitions, but he enjoys it all the same. Close to 80-odd kids, out of whom eight are differently-abled, train under him in two batches and he spends around six hours a day coaching.
“Once a kid enters the swimming pool, the coach is everything for him/her. When you’re swimming you just have to worry about your own training. I had fewer tensions then than now,” he says.