Mentor Magazine- Celebrity Speak
Ever since I can remember, I've been this super competitive athlete, always wanting to win and be the best, daring to make sacrifices and to have the spotlight on me, to excel in whatever I chose to do.
As a child I suffered from bronchitis and the doctors advised my parents to get me to start swimming as remedy for the illness. So at 7, I began lessons at the Willingdon Sports Club, and given my proclivity to compete, it was only natural that I was soon craving competition, shifting to NSCI and then Otters Club, with my parents looking for the best possible programme to guide my talent. Over the next couple of years, I began picking up my first serious medals in swimming - with two golds at the National Championships at the age of 11. At that point, the best programmes in Indian Swimming were in Bangalore, and I knew I’d need access to coaches there to move levels. In 1999, my parents made massive sacrifices, shifting from Mumbai where they had a full life, to Bangalore and I spent the next 13 years training, chasing my dreams, competing and winning.
My achievements and accolades in the pool grew as I matured as an athlete. Most international events were amazing experiences, not just for the medals I won but also because it feels extra special going out and racing, knowing you are swimming for your national flag. You are with a team that travels abroad, and its fun spending time with teammates and coaches outside of regular training. It’s important to have fun, because people rarely succeed unless they also enjoy what they are doing.
Every win was special, but the memory of a few landmark events, still gives me goosebumps, and makes me want to get back in the pool and race again - such as qualifying for the Beijing Olympics and being able to represent my flag at the most prestigious sporting event ever, with my parents in the audience; Or being awarded the Best Overall Athlete at the 2002 and 2007 editions of the National Games after some really special races with several record times for the country.
I was deeply self motivated, and never really had a mentor, but I did have a fantastic team of coaches, and unbelivable support from my parents and few really close friends who helped me stay on track when things seemed impossible to achieve. Even when you are in a seemingly individual sport, it is always your support sysytem, your team, your coaches, who are doing their jobs, that make it possble for you to go out there and do what you do best. I absolutely believe that people, unless coached, never reach their maximum potential. Over the years in training, I have had the opportunity to work with some outstanding people, and these are the people and these are the friendships, that inspire me to go out there and do better than my best.
Everyone has something good to offer, be it advice to improve your mental strength or even technical prowess in your sport. Through my career, I drew on that. I would make it a point, for instance, to watch, learn and adapt into my own swimming, tips I got from watching other swimmers, champions or otherwise.
Today, in my coaching sessions with competitive swimmers, I remind them that results and rewards always come. Sometimes it takes a little time to show, but if there's patience and dedication to your dreams, it always comes through.Competitive sport is gruelling. It takes hours of training. So a lot of sportsmen, once retired, feel like they are at a loose end with their future.They invest so so much in terms of time and money as well, that once their sport is done, they feel lost.I had a similar experience the week after I decided to take a break from the pool. A week into my break, I started waking up with panic attacks with regards to what my future held. If I wasn't swimming, I didn't really know what to do.
As it happened I visited the golf course that week, and all it took was one day at this sport for me to get so completely hooked that not only did I not miss competition and winning so, so much but it had me feeling like the seven year old , who now just had to be the best in this sport too!
Two years into the sport, I've won in club tournaments in Mumbai and Pune, and hopefully by next year I'll be competing on the amateur circuit. Someday I hope I’ll be playing professional golf too - right now it's the biggest goal I've set for myself!I train with coach Justin Parsons at the Butch Harmon School of Golf in Dubai. Training for competitive sport is expensive and Golf is certainly no exception if you choose to pursue it fully. Training, equipment and travel costs are always high and since I had decided to pursue this competitively, I had to figure out a way to support this dream.
Since swimming is what I know best, I decided to start my brand of SwimSmart clinics offering competitive training to swimmers across the country. It also helped me get over missing the pool so much, and to share my skills and all that I’ve learnt swimming at the highest levels and training with some of the best coaches in the world, and to be the mentor I never had, someone who’d been there and done that, for swimmers on the same journey.
I enjoy teaching. Ever since I was old enough to, I would spend some time working with the younger swimmers in my team In Bangalore. I would coach a batch of kids before I got into the pool to train myself, as a hobby. I always had a dream of starting a swimming academy of my own as well, someday. There is no better feeling than inspiring a child to strive for the best, to learn the value of patience, hard work and determination, the lessons of sport that carry through to life.
Two years from its inception, I can proudly say that at SwimSmart we work with some of the country’s best swimmers. From club and team clinics to one-on-one workshops, I engage with some really talented kids, and sometimes, they remind me of me.
All my swimming life, I felt that if I had a mentor when I was younger, to guide me through tough races or stressful situation, I could have done a lot better. When I spend time with swimmers, guiding them in the pool or sharing tips of dryland work, or helping build them up mentally to perform and be the best they can be, I feel I miss my swimming just a little less, knowing that I’m adding value to the careers of swimmers today and also giving back to Indian sport.
A coach plays such a huge role in an athlete’s life. All my coaches had a huge impact, be it positive or negative. I can tell you from experience that everything a coach tells an athlete sticks with him, and has a lasting effect. A good coach can make an athlete believe in what he can be, set goals bigger than he can dream of, show him the road and give him the courage to walk it, with him by his side. A bad coach can do equal damage. This is why I'm extremely careful when I engage with my swimmers or when I speak at a college or corporate house.
My swimmers connect with me after their races, telling me how they did, and sometimes I get sent pictures of their medals and wins, and that to me is so fulfilling and special. I truly appreciate the bond that a coach and an athlete share. I've had some really sweet moments as well, where my swimmers have done sketches of me being coach, or made lucky charms for my golf! One gifted me a calendar full of Batman pictures (and I love Batman).
SOME OF MY LEARNINGS:
1. RACE YOURSELF: I’m always asked by parents and swimmers what they need to do to beat everyone else, to be the best! A lot of athletes get very focussed on competitors and struggle to deal with excess pressure because they make the sport more about beating an individual rather than bettering themselves.
And this is what I always try to get across to my swimmers or ahletes from other sports at a motivational session, that your greatest rivalry always has to be with yourself. You can never really control what your competition does, and only have control over your effort and goals.I’ve always found it easier to deal with the pressures of self-improvement rather than pressure from another's competition.Managing your mental state of mind,helps performance improve.
2. LOVE WHAT YOU DO: When I'm speaking to a broader audience at a corporate talk where there are not too many athletes present, I also touch upon the fact that you have to choose your goals and set your dreams in such a way that you can see yourself working really hard at achieving them! Everyone loves the idea of being successful but if you can actually visualise also passionately loving all the hard work, the struggle and sacrifice that goes into achieving those dreams, then you can be convinced that you've chosen your goal well. This happens when you love what you do so much, that it stops feeling like you’re working.
3. IT’S OK TO BE DIFFERENT: For the younger audience, I always keep it simple and tell them that it's alright to not fit in, to not be the coolest in school! Be the one that people ridicule for setting that impossible dream, be stupid enough to not accept failure, and then go out and get it with all your heart!
Swimming took me to countries all over the world through competitions, helped me achieve so much and also helped gain the adulation of many. Today, when I walk into a workshop or a talk, an event sometimes, I’m invited to pose with fans or little kids for pictures and give autographs. It feels really really special, but also serves as a reminder that the sacrifices made along the way – giving up dates, late nights, junk food etc. that may have invited jokes at one time, are now the very reason for the audulation I receive. This reminder of who I am helps me pick myself up on my bad days and keeps me so motivated, always striving to be the best I can possibly be at whatever I choose to do in my life!
Before ending, I think I would like to leave my readers with this message - a little story from one of my favourite movies - Catch Me If You Can.
The hero’s father goes up on stage for an award, and in his acceptance speech he tells a story of two little mice who were thrown into a bucket of cream and couldn’t get out. One mouse gave up and quickly drowned. The other kept moving to stay afloat and eventually ran so hard that he churned that cream into butter, climbed on to a ball of cream, and jumped out alive.
I tell all my students this story, and remind them that they always have a choice, to be the mouse that overcame his struggles and got out alive and a winner, or the one that quickly gave up and drowned! Dream big, wake up to your dreams every morning. I've been doing the same for the last 20 years and I think it's worked out for me pretty well so far! I hope it does so, for you too ;)