Taking The Plunge: Sajan Prakash
Tell us a little about your life and your first tryst with swimming.
I was born in Thodupuzha, Kerala, but I was brought up in Neyveli, Tamil Nadu as my mother accepted a job there. She was also an athlete and thus brought me up in a sporting lifestyle. I participated in many games and at last, my interest took me to the swimming pool.
When did you start taking swimming seriously, and who played an important role in helping you realise your potential?
I started taking swimming seriously when I was 14 and it was my mom who took efforts for me to reach this level. Moreover, my coaches Joy Joseph Thoppan and Saji Sebastian identified my potential and coached me till the age of 17. After that, I moved to Bangalore to train under the top coach of the country, S. Pradeep Kumar where my life completely changed from average to amazing.
Currently, I’m on a scholarship from FINA to train in Phuket under Miguel Lopez. I consider myself really lucky.
The first Indian swimmer in 32 years to qualify for the 200m butterfly final at the Asian Games. How does it feel to create history?
It feels good to comprehend what all I have achieved, and that I have helped give a platform to many other upcoming athletes. However, it is imperative for us to realise why we took so many years to catch up with the world, and accordingly find insights on how we got lost in the middle, and fix it immediately.
How would you sum up the whole Olympic experience in Rio? Was it everything that you had imagined?
The reality only hit me once I entered the athlete’s village, where I saw top-class players from different sports, from all over the world. It felt awesome to be a part of that, and to learn from them.
Is there anything that happens behind the scenes that you think most people do not know about the Olympics?
It is where you meet the world’s best of the best, and it felt great. I ate my meals with Micheal Phelps and many other athletes, and we eventually spoke and shared our thoughts on the sport.
In India, many people aren’t well-versed with swimming, and it is indeed a rare sport. Tell us a little about the challenges you faced in your career.
As Indians, we need to build awareness about this sport and the culture it involves. We further need multiple coaches and instructors to take up swimming coaching professionally, and be knowledgeable about how well this sport operates.
When you have an “off” day and motivation seems to elude you, how do you push through it?
Usually, when I rest, I take things easy and focus on my well being. It is not only about what you do in the pool that makes you a good athlete, but also recovering after a gruelling session. Relaxing for your next hectic training session will definitely help you build up for the next level.
Walk us through your typical day. How often do you practice?
I do about 10 swimming sessions and four weights and dryland sessions per week. In an off session on a Sunday, I enjoy sleeping or watching a movie.
The trend is such that most swimmers retire by the time they are 30, and take up coaching and/or diverse roles. Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
I see a good five years of swimming until the next Olympics. But many aren’t able to do that, since we do not have a system or option for jobs to support the athlete financially if he/she wants to continue the sport. I find myself lucky as a swimmer, because the police department in Kerala is supporting me in all ways to achieve more. However, it is definitely a myth that if you’re 30 you cannot be a swimmer anymore and you have to retire.
What advice would you give to amateurs who want to be able to swim at the level you do?
It’s simple; believe in yourself, come out of your comfort zone, make use of the opportunity, and do not stop or step back when you feel it’s painful. Just push through the pain. I still remember what my coach said during the transformation period of my career; “Attack every day with an enthusiasm, which is unknown to mankind.” The thought has stuck with me for long and will be a part of my life forever.