KOCHI: The air at Aluva Manappuram was thick with anticipation and excitement as 11-year-old R Manoj got ready to triumph over the Periyar. The hundreds of people who had gathered on the banks of the river held their breath as Manoj dived in and began swimming with easy strokes towards his destination.
It was not an everyday event for those who had gathered on the banks of the river, for, there was something special about the swimmer. A student of School For The Blind, Aluva, Manoj is vision impaired from birth. The spectators, friends, teachers and family were there to cheer and motivate him to complete the task -- swimming across the Periyar. Manoj seemed confident and cool. “Navaneeth, one of my seniors, was the first blind person to swim across the Periyar in 2015. That was my inspiration to learn swimming,” said Manoj, who was training under Saji Valasseril for a month. Navaneeth was also a student of Saji.
The attempt was flagged off by Swami Swaroopananda Swamikal, head of Advaita Ashram at 8.10am. As soon as Manoj started swimming, his family, teachers, friends and spectators started cheering him. The band team from his school played continuously to encourage their dear friend. Manoj reached the destination by 8.40am and was welcomed with loud cheers and applause. “We hear about many cases of drowning. If we know swimming, accidents in water can be avoided. My initiative is to make people aware of the importance of swimming. I felt low during the initial training classes. However, Saji sir made me swim long distances daily and that’s how I completed the initiative effortlessly,” added Manoj.
“What he did is an inspiration to many. I’m sure he can achieve whatever he dreams in his life,” said Ramesh Gangadharan, Manoj’s father.
His trainer Saji, who has been training people for free in the last 11 years, said he was very proud of Manoj’s achievement. “It was so easy to train him. It took him 30 minutes to finish as he was swimming in a relaxed mood. Parents of differently-abled children encourage them to get trained. However, the other parents never bother about it. Any child or person who trains for one hour for a month can master swimming. Parents should always encourage their children to learn swimming. And it should be made part of the school curriculum,” he said.