Himanshu Nandal: Swimming to Win

Himanshu Nandal, a visually impaired swimmer from Rohtak, has overcome his challenges, won national championships, and is now preparing for his debut at the Paralympics in Paris, next month
Para-athletes’ team for The Asian Para Games 2022.
Para-athletes’ team for The Asian Para Games 2022.

A 20-year-old boy from Rohtak is all set to go to Paris in August for his first-ever Paralympics competition. Meet Himanshu Nandal, a para swimmer who began his journey in 2021. “As a kid, I knew how to save myself from drowning, but I did not know professional swimming. It was only in 2021 that my professional training in swimming began. Before that, I was a judo player,” he says.

Making the switch

Nandal comes from a family of sportspersons. His father, Balwant Singh, currently with the Haryana Police, was a former national hockey player. His uncle, Manjeet Nandal, is a judo player who represented India in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Himanshu started with judo in 2017, but his journey was not smooth. “There was no judo federation for para players. Universities did not recognise these certificates, making it difficult for me to secure admission to the University of Delhi through the sports quota,” he explains.

Nandal, who lost his sight at birth due to optic nerve failure, is 100 percent visually impaired. “However, in judo, players who were 50 per cent visually impaired competed against those who were 100 per cent visually impaired. The competitions were not fair,” his father adds.

After much deliberation and Nandal’s desire to continue sports for fitness, he decided to pursue swimming. In 2021, he started going to the Siri Fort Sports Complex; his formal training began in October.

New lessons for everyone

“Before Himanshu came to me, I didn’t know much about training para swimmers,” says Ranbir Sharma, Nandal’s coach. However, seeing Nandal’s determination, Sharma agreed to coach him. “I was also motivated because I come from Haryana, and seeing a boy from my state working so hard and doing something for the nation made me feel like I should also do my part to encourage him,” Sharma says.

Under Sharma’s training, Nandal competed in his first National Para Swimming Championship in Udaipur in March 2022. This was a breakthrough for him, as he earned two gold medals and set a national record. “Seeing him and other para players, I was more driven than ever to train Himanshu,” says Sharma.

After that competition, Sharma did some research and introduced new training methods for Nandal. “I had to unlearn a lot of my old training methods. Usually, I would make a video of myself to show my students how to correct their posture, but with Himanshu, this was not possible. So, I had to try something else, something different,” he explains.

To train Nandal, Sharma would hold his hands to demonstrate the correct arm movements for swimming. He instructed Nandal that, to maintain proper posture, his arms must touch his thighs when making a windmill arc to move forward in freestyle. For the backstroke, Sharma explained that Nandal’s hands should touch his ears to ensure a straight posture. “Another thing I learned while training him was about tappers,” Sharma says. “Tappers are people who tap on the swimmer’s head when he is about to approach the pool’s end, signalling that he must turn to avoid colliding with the wall.”

One of the biggest challenges for Nandal was not veering off course while swimming. To address this, coach Sharma used lane training. “But it only comes with practice and more practice,” he emphasises.

Strokes of success

These efforts bore fruit when Nandal won three gold medals and set three national records at the National Para Championship in Guwahati in November 2022. After that, there was no looking back. In April 2023, he participated in the Citi World Para Series in Singapore and qualified for the Asian Para Games 2022 in Hangzhou. Although he didn’t win any medals there, his performance won many hearts.

In March 2024, Nandal again won three gold medals at the National Para Swimming Championship in Gwalior. He secured a sponsorship of around Rs 2 lakh from the National Mineral Development Corporation for the Citi World Para Series in Singapore, which took place in May. Nandal became the first blind swimmer and the second Indian para swimmer to achieve the minimum qualification standards in the 100-meter breaststroke and minimum entry times in the 100-meter backstroke and 200-meter individual medley, qualifying for the Paris Paralympics 2024.

To prepare for this, he is now training even harder. He wakes up at 6am, goes to Talkatora Stadium for training from 8am to 10am, works out, eats, and allows his body to recover until 4:30pm. Then, from 5pm to 7pm, he trains again, returns home by 8pm, has dinner, and goes to bed by 9pm. “Getting enough sleep and rest is as important as getting enough training to be ready for the next competition,” he says, as he prepares himself for the gold at the Paralympics in August.

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The New Indian Express