Making the impossible possible: Sharath Gayakwad

Sharath Gayakwad who believes in giving 100% talks about his journey, his great achievements and how he is contributing to common good

Give it your 100% and you will achieve your dream one day

Born with a congenital deformity in his left hand, Sharath Gayakwad managed to do the unthinkable. He chose swimming as a career and shone like a bright star, even breaking the medal tally of the legendary PT Usha at the Asian Games. 

A firm believer of always giving 100%, Gayakwad is a true inspiration. He says his disability does not stop him from doing anything that he sets out to do. He admits he’s had his share of challenges, but his determination has always seen him through.

Here he talks about his journey, winning medals, athletes he admires, and how he is giving back to society. Be inspired!

You have fought against all odds to become an award-winning athlete. What has your journey been like?

I was born with a deformed left hand and had a very tough childhood. I had to take help from others around me even for doing the simplest of things, such as eating food, putting on clothes, writing, etc. 

However, I was always involved in sports. When I was in class 4, the school I was studying in (Little Flower Public School) made it mandatory for all the kids to learn swimming. I have always been lucky to be treated as an equal. So the principal convinced me and my parents to try out swimming. 

The moment I got into the water I fell in love with it and there was no looking back. Once I started to swim comfortably and perform well, I got the confidence that if I can swim, I can do anything. I slowly started finding different ways to do things, and today I can say there’s nothing I can’t do.

You won six gold medals in multidisciplinary events at the Asian para games in 2014, which is greater than PT Usha’s 5-medal tally at the 1986 Asian Games. How did it feel to beat her record?

Yes, it definitely feels amazing to win six medals (one silver and five bronze medals) at the highest level of the sport in the continent. I personally don’t care about the record because records are meant to be broken!

Tomorrow there will be an Indian swimmer or an athlete from another sport who will beat my medal tally. 
It was a very difficult time for me as I was on the verge of retirement. But I decided to give my 100% no matter what. I knew I would be able to win three or four medals at the 2014 APG, but the most important thing was to leave nothing on the plate. I was able to give my best times in about four events, which is very satisfying for me. 

Speaking of PT Usha and records, she is a legend and I don’t like to compare myself with anybody – our achievements involve different times, different situations, different personalities and, of course, different sports. 

You would have experienced your share of challenges on your way to becoming a swimming sensation. Tell us about them and how you tackled them.

I have faced quite a few challenges. Financial hurdles, injuries, lack of motivation, trying to quit about 3-4 times in my career, wanting to become a coach. The main reason for me to continue swimming is my coach John Christopher. 

Of course, there was my love for swimming, and the support of family and friends. But it’s the amazing belief that John had in me to do more and achieve more in my life that made me believe in myself. He did a lot of brainstorming sessions and experiments to keep me going, for which I am very thankful. 

A special thanks to everybody who supported me throughout my career: GoSports Foundation, Rahul Dravid, Speedo, PM Swimming Centre, Pooja Aquatic Centre, Basavanagudi Aquatic Centre and all the coaches, Paralympic Committee of India, Little Flower Public School, Jain University, Healthadd Consultancy, Infinite Computer Solutions, Mphasis, BEML, and many others who believed in me – which gave me the confidence to push myself harder.

Tell us about your first gold at the national and international levels. How did that motivate you to do better?

I won my first gold at the nationals in 2003 and my first gold at the international level in 2007. Medals are always a plus point in an athlete’s career. I personally felt the hunger to do more, thanks to these medals. 

But as I matured as an athlete, I realised that the most important thing is to give your 100% and keep pushing your limits. There have been many medals that I am not proud of as I did not clock my personal best in those events; I felt I could have gone faster.

Who are the athletes you adore/idolise and wish to meet someday?

Ian Thorpe, Valentino Rossi, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, and many more! I learn different things from each of these examples of sporting excellence, and that’s changed the way I think and do things in life. 

I’ve already had the opportunity to meet Ian Thorpe and Rahul Dravid but would love to spend time with each of these stars to learn from them. 

Tell us about your meeting with Rahul Dravid?

It was an awesome feeling meeting someone whom I have always admired. I got to learn so much from him. We both shared our happy and tough times. He shared his life experiences with me. I was at a low at that time and wanted to retire from swimming. He motivated me to keep going, but at the same time never forced me. He left the decision to me. He made me sift through the problems I was going through and made me think about what I wanted to achieve in life. 

Whenever I got a chance to advise anyone, I always used to tell them to do a particular thing. But after meeting Rahul, I try to emulate his strategy and empower others.

You are also an entrepreneur now, having co-founded Gamatics.in. How did you discover the entrepreneur within?

Being an entrepreneur was not part of the plan, but Santosh and Shantala – the directors of Gamatics – wanted me to be a part of the company and help them promote sports in the country. Unfortunately, after three years, we parted ways in 2017 as I had different plans and wanted to concentrate more on my coaching career. But I wish them the very best in their endeavours.

What’s next on the swimming front?

I’m currently working with an NGO called BluFin Foundation, which was registered very recently, with the aim to promote para-sports at the grassroots level and develop a better coaching program for para-sports. Our aim is to get the highest podium in the sport for the country. 

What are the lessons that life has taught you?

The most important thing I learnt is that it’s a never-ending process; no matter how much you think it’s impossible, you keep pushing and working hard till it becomes possible. 

There is no one particular way to do anything. You just need to figure out what makes you comfortable and work on achieving the goal or solving the problem. Every problem has a solution.

What is your message to India’s youth?

Always give your 100%. In swimming, we say, ‘you should not be able to get out of the pool; that’s how tired you should be after every race’. So give it your 100% and you will achieve your dream one day.

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