World Junior Games Champion from Bengaluru swims his way to Limca Book of Records – The Journey of Niranjan Mukundan who brings glory to India
4th September 1994
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They say a person is never disabled physically if he is gifted & resilient from mind. This thought proves true with one sportsperson who fought with all odds of societal stigma and achieved success in person as well as made our country proud not just once but multiple times. Niranjan Mukundan a Para-Olympian swimmer is a meticulous and blessed swimming champ who got the privilege to deliver the oath at the world games between 35 other representatives from different countries. Having been honored several accolades with total of 27 International medals and 100 state & National medals, in a short span of time. Niranjan is a true source of inspiration to all those who think life has not treated them fair. At a very young age he has beaten his own record and has shown people that infirmity can never come in one’s way to victory. His winning spirit has made him won 10 medals at one go at IWAS (International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports) World Junior Games that featured him in The Limca Book of Records. This historic win bagged him the ‘Junior World Champion’ title in one event of IWAS. He is not only a swimming champ but also passionate about cars that has led him to The Indian & the Asian book of records for being the youngest & fastest car racer. Born & brought up in Bangalore, Karnataka; Niranjan has become nations pride and a global face but believes he has still a long way to go.
Team imd1 had a chat with him a few days ago, read on to know him further!
We are really keen to know, how did your journey begin?
I was born with a medical condition spina bifida, which made me difficult to walk and do normal activities. To strengthen my leg condition, doctor suggested learning swimming. I instantly connected with water like a fish and learnt swimming in a months’ time. My coach John Christopher spotted me and identified my talent. My parents were hesitant initially as it was difficult for me to walk and representing my state or country was far from reach. But then I started swimming professionally at the age of 8.5 yrs. I won my first medal in 2003 at national level representing Karnataka in a span of 4 months after joining swimming. I felt motivated as I got appreciation and was awarded too. So, my first medal was in 2003-2004 in Mumbai and then in Kolkata in 2005. Henceforth, I have been representing my state & country at all competitions.
Quote for Life
Protein, Kapada Aur Makaan
Favorite Personalities & Inspirations
Food I Love
Food I Hate
Had I not been a Swimmer then…
Never thought of
Like Vacations at
Favorite Past time
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Chak De India, Mary Kom, Om Shanti Om
Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone
What has been your success mantra?
I have been always treated special as I was a differently able student. Many people thought I will never be able to do normal activities. I was fortunate to have a team and coach who never gave me leisure treatment. If I was late, I was sent back. If I didn’t finish my task, I was punished. So being treated at par with others kept me going!
What were the hardships/hurdles you encountered and how did you overcome them?
I tasted success initially. Though I haven’t won all events yet, I have lost many events at a close shave, as in swimming even micro second cost you the winners place. Major event in my life was when I had a surgery in 2014 and could not go for the Common Wealth Games. Similarly, in 2014 for the Asian games, I had less than 5 months to recover and participate. It was a tough phase, but my coach made serious plan for my rehab. But when I went there my health agonized more and I had to withdraw. When you are representing your country at highest level, you have to keep going and not let failures take over you. So, in spite of many obstacles that came my way, I continued with my practice and participated in various other events.
Do you think swimming and its learning’s can be helpful in life even if one does not want to consider it as a career goal?
If you know swimming one can save life. Even at fitness level, from head to toe when you swim, your every body part is exercised. So, it helps one during emergency as it equips you to save lives and also contributes to an individual’s fitness.
Who has been your influencer in your journey so far?
Rahul Dravid has been a great influencer. I was a very aggressive kid and used to cry when I lost any game. But look at him; he has been so calm and composed. I got 16 surgeries done wherein the maximum time taken was 18 hrs and was even admitted for 6 months at a stretch. I had to learn to be patient in life during that time. Rahul Dravid has been a gentleman on field & off field. This is the reason he is called ‘Mr. Dependable of India’. He is not involved in any controversy till date. He is my role model!
Which was “that” moment when you considered yourself as “I Am The 1”?
I personally believe I am not less than anyone. This thought keeps away negative energy and brings in self-confidence keeping over confidence away and make me feel “Yes, I Am The 1”.
Is your success backed by a formal training?
Initially I used to swim for 30mins. Gradually I practiced swimming for 45min to 1hr. My Spanish coach spotted me in Thailand and gave me sponsorship to train in Thailand which I am doing currently. The training is for 8 hrs including 2 hrs in gym.
Could you reflect on the importance of systematic training in Swimming?
Everyone has a goal and sets targets. One needs a good team and proper guidance. I was lucky to have a mentor in terms of Spanish spatial coach Miguel Lopez. He has produced many Olympians and Para-Olympians. We have a team from Spain coaching 20 people from 15 different countries all on scholarships. We are given a daily regime to follow. If you have a proper team and experienced knowledgeable coach, then it eases your burden & hurdles. When I started with high performance training, I was few seconds slower than what I am now. Progress of the team helped me also grow. For this systematic way of training is important. In 2008 we didn’t have a planned way of getting competent. We were taught only to survive in water and learn strokes. Now when swimming is dominant it is taught with a proper method analyzing your strengths and areas where one is lacking. We also have many talented coaches in India who are helping the younger generation to become skilled at world level competitions.
Are there any prerequisites like age, fitness or a particular type of mindset required to pursue swimming?
In foreign counties, even a 11 months baby is put in water. We cannot push someone’s mind to swim. Once you start learning it’s a fun activity & hobby. Even at 70yrs people want to learn swimming to remain fit. But otherwise it’s a fun sport and can save lives. At competitive level a different maturity level & training is needed.
Technology and scientific training has been changing the way people get trained in swimming. What’s your take?
Technology has progressed in every sport. We have a lot of instruments that can be put inside the pool and monitor swimmers to help them excel.
How can one select an ideal ‘Guru’ for getting formal coaching?
Everyone is experienced in their own field. Every coach or guru at their level is an expertise. Using their skill on the student is totally upon the coach. The continued mentoring depends on how the student adjusts with it. When my coach punished me due to some reason 14 years ago and if that point of time I had thought negative about him, I would have not reached this level where I am today. One has to follow and be compatible with each other.
What according to you, can be a scope for improvement in training for swimming in India?
I feel we are coming up with good infrastructure under one roof at a slow pace. In my initial swimming days in Bangalore, I used to go to different places for training as all facilities were scattered. Now I have everything under than one roof, be it gym, or swimming etc. Due to this the stress of transportation and travelling fatigue goes away. Abroad all activities are under one roof, that also contributes in some way towards a player’s performance.
What do you suggest for better accessibility of swimming in remote parts of India?
In India we have talent hunt search at many places. The government does grass root level search which I have already seen in Karnataka. This initiative might be conducted at other states too and that’s one good effort. It takes contestants from District-State-National and then to International level competitions.
In your opinion, what are the basic key traits apart from formal training that make “imd1”?
If you have self-belief, 50% of success is achieved. One must not let negative factors affect you. Positivity is the key to success.
How can one identify & encourage talent in the family?
Many schools have made sports as a curriculum. This generation is over obsessed with gadgets. Rather than keeping children home parents must take them out to pursue sport or any physical activity. This will help them identify their talent and enhance it further.
One thing which you feel you want to change from the past while you walk down memory lane…
I am very happy and fortunate with this life. I don’t want to change anything. In childhood people used to say I won’t be able to drive, walk, do sports or much in life, but I proved everyone wrong. Once an incident happened 10yrs ago; where couple of friends & relatives told my parents to not enroll me in swimming. Same people congratulated my parents when I won the junior championship. Probably I got motivated by their negative view for my success.
Any other thoughts you want to share?
It’s been great journey and I just need everyone’s blessings to make my country more proud.