VIJAYAWADA: Annapureddy Lakshman Rao, a 35-year-old para swimmer and his team from Vijayawada, have made the Krishna district proud by winning four gold, four silver and two bronze medals at the 20th National Para Swimming Championship held in Bengaluru from March 20 to 22. In all, Andhra Pradesh has won 20 medals in various categories, among them 10 were won by Lakshman Rao’s team.
Born without any health complications, Rao was afflicted by polio when he was five. He underwent many surgeries right from his childhood but none of them made him walk properly. He completed his Intermediate, and then took up odd jobs. As per the advice of his doctors, Rao underwent training for swimming at the age of 20 under Tirumalai Kumar, an employee with South Central Railway (SCR) in 2005. The same year, Rao participated in various national level championships held in Bengaluru, Kolkata, Mumbai and Udaipur. In 2007, the para swimmer won a bronze medal in Asian Games held in Malaysia.
After learning about the achievements of para swimmer on various media, five more differently abled persons started training under Lakshman Rao. In the recently held event in Bengaluru, Lakshman Rao won two gold medals and one silver medal under S5 (disability swimming classification).
While the remaining five para swimmers won the medals at the national event including Md Karimullah (42), a tailor. Karimullah drew inspiration from Lakshman Rao and learnt swimming from him. He won a silver medal in 50 metres breaststroke and a bronze medal in backstroke.“I owe my success to Lakshman Rao and the management of the Sir Vizzy Swimming Pool at Gandhi Nagar. They always stood by me and encouraged my talent,” he says.
In the women’s category, Sk Salma (35) started training under Lakshman Rao since 2019. “I won a gold medal in 100 metres breaststroke. My dream is to represent the State at various national events,’’ says Salma, who believes that support makes the greatest difference to the differently abled.
Another para swimmer, G Jitendra (14), a student of a special child school, also started learning swimming from Lakshman Rao since 2013. He won a silver medal in 200 metres freestyle. Another 14-year-old B Mohit won three medals in the sub-junior category that includes a gold in 100 metres freestyle and two silver in 50 metres in freestyle.
A 49-year-old G Gopal Das Mukherjee, who is also a part of Rao’s team, won a silver medal in breast hook. “After winning the medals in the national event held in Bengaluru, we met District Collector A Md Imtiaz and sought his support for providing us employment based on our eligibility. He assured us of providing jobs and also gave a cash incentive of `2,000 each from his own pocket,” says Lakshman Rao. He said that he was ready to nurture the budding sports talents with the support of the VMC officials.