MUMBAI: The Bhonsala Military School at Nashik is fast emerging as a prominent centre for para swimming championships at the national level. Of the 25 swimmers trained at the centre over the past decade, four fetched eight gold medals in different swimming events at the 17th National Para-Swimming Championship at Udaipur. Ten-year-old Sia Patil, who started swimming at the age of six, is among the youngest achievers. Sia has nine national gold medals in different swimming events to her credit.
“When we discovered the congenital condition of our only child, my first reaction was that I should be able to give her the best possible treatment. But, we soon realised that there wasn’t much to do except physiotherapy. One of the doctors suggested that we try teaching her swimming and that helped,” says Sia’s father Sachin.If the government really cares for the disabled children, it should make adequate arrangements for them to be able to participate in sports events, says Sachin adding that it will help children fit in with their peers as well as the society.
“Maharashtra doesn’t have special schemes for supporting disabled sportsperson though many other states like Haryana do have them. If we get some support from the government, Maharashtra too can have many sportspersons who can excel at international levels,” he adds. Unlike Sia, Sayli, who has 15 national-level gold medals to her credit over past 10 odd years, started swimming at the age of 10. A blood clot in her left brain at birth had rendered her hemiplegic — a condition that involves complete or partial paralysis of half of the body. Her mother had to give up a promising career to spend more time with her. However, it has paid off, says Sayli.
She has grown into a 22-year-old confident young woman and the transformation amazes everyone. Sayli recently completed her graduation in visual arts and is now preparing for Maharashra Public Service Commission examination as she hopes to join the state administrative services. She hopes to represent India at an international level in the future. Sayli says the entire credit for her transformation goes to the sport. “Swimming is not just a recreational sport but rejuvenation for us,” she adds.
The story of Siddhi Bhandarkar too is not different. At the age of 11, she earned three gold medals at national level at Udaipur. Sixteen-year-old Gauri Garje, meanwhile, won one gold and two silver medals at the Paralympics. Gauri wants to be a coach, as she “wants to share the joy of the sport with others”.
Built in 1938, the swimming pool at the 80-year-old Bhonsala Military School is an attraction in itself. For the coach Ghanshyam Kunwar, the journey started in 2010 with his friend’s quadriplegic daughter.
“I had the urge to do something for the poor child and all I had was this. I convinced her father but convincing the child who was afraid of water was difficult. However, as time passed she started enjoying the sport. Her physical and mental recovery was impressive, which gave me a confidence that we can train such kids for para swimming competitions,” Kunwar says and adds that his only wish now is to see someone from his students now represent India at international level.