Here is an interview of Indian Para Swimmer Niranjan Mukundan who excels in Butterfly and Freestyle events. He has been India’s top Para Swimmer for many years.
Niranjan shares his exciting and inspiring journey and tells the ups and downs of his career.
How did you start as a swimmer?
Basically I started it for the sake of recreation and to strengthen my legs and have a fit body. My doctors had suggested me to opt for swimming rather than other sports.
After few sessions of swimming, whenever I entered the water I felt like a fish. I never felt like getting out of the water and going home.
I had options between swimming and horse riding. As a child I was scared of the big figure of the horse and I loved getting wet in the rains.
So basically I loved water around me. Back then I was that lazy child who would chill in the pool tapping around in the water. All these things made me choose swimming over horse riding or any other sport.
You succeeded in swimming at a very young age. So how was your experience during those early days as a swimmer?
My coach always trained me to give my best. Winning and losing are parts of the game. Giving your 100% is in your hand.
There is a quote in swimming which says:
Medals are won in the practise; you just go and pick it up in the competitions.
I would always say that this is just the start and this is just the beginning.
The year of 2012 and the years since then have been extremely amazing for you. What will you say about these years?
This was a special year for me as it was the 1st time that I got a chance to represent India. The federation called me and said that now is the time you have to represent the nation.
I was doing well at the state and the national level. I had won Gold Medals at the National Level as well. The moment I received a call from the federation, I couldn’t believe it. It was the moment I can never ever forget in life.
Representing the national flag was like a dream come true for me. I still remember the day, I was in Germany and I had heard how fearless the European swimmers are and I was a bit nervous at that time. But over the time, everything went well.
That moment when I represented my country will definitely be the best moment of my life. The sacrifices I had, staying away from my family, working hard all the time and all the efforts paid off.
Who were the coaches you were blessed with and what kind of role did they play in your life?
I was always blessed with a great team of people who supported me a lot. I started swimming under my coach named John Christopher. He was my 1st coach and from then, we have been together for 16 years. It has been a great journey with him and we share a great relationship. We have lots of fun when we are not practising.
A lot of credit goes to this man as he has played the most important role. We have become more like a family rather than the coach-student relationship.
I was also coached by Miguel Lopez who also played an important role in my career.
Going through 17 surgeries is extremely difficult. How come did you manage so much of that?
To be honest, I am prone to lot of injuries. My coaches helped me a lot to get back to shape. They even held sessions for me when I wasn’t ready to enter the pool. They supported me a lot emotionally and that what made me match ready whenever I entered the pool after an injury.
The injury or the defect you have is called spina bifida and with clubbed feet. How does that affect your swimming practise and also the results?
I don’t really feel that this defect affects any of the factors in swimming. We have the Para events in which I participate.
According to me, the inner strength, your mental health and the way you look up to different challenge matters the most. The way you train is important than any other factors in any of the sport.
I was nicknamed as the ‘Medal Machine of India’. I was the national champion; I have national records in front of my name, so the defect really doesn’t affect my progress or my career.
You have also won a medal in Water Polo. So how was the experience participating in the team game?
In 2007-08, I was chosen to play for Karnataka team. At that time I was a national level swimmer. After watching the game closely, it appealed to me and it seemed to be a fun game. So I played Water Polo for a year. I have played a couple of matches in Bhopal and Goa.
Also the thing that very few people know is that I was also a National Chess Champion. I was ranked 3rd in the state of Karnataka and this was between the period of 2010-2011.
You were successful as a swimmer from the start itself. But there are some people in the society who like to comment and criticize. How did you handle the social pressure?
The equation is simple, if you have fans, then you are also going to have to critics. I am blessed with great people around me who have always helped me get out of difficult situations. They held my back and made me strong whenever I faced any problems.
One of the incidents I would love to share with you is; 4-5 years back when I went for an international competition, I was down with fever. The critics and the media started saying that when you knew you were not going to participate and give your best, then what was the point going for such a prestigious tournament.
I couldn’t give my best shot, but however I managed to win some medals out there. After the tournament was over, the same people and media praised me saying that even with high fever, Niranjan managed to win laurels for the country.
So it’s all part of life and I take all the things positively.
Earlier, people took swimming lightly because this is not a cash-bounty sport. But over the years, we swimmers have done a great job in bringing Indian Swimming on the maps of India. Sajan Prakash, Virdhawal Khade and Sharath all have done a brilliant job over the years.
Did you ever feel like giving up?
During 2016, I had a Spanish coach named Miguel Lopez. I call him “Ruthless.”
At the starting of the practise, he told all of us:
If you don’t feel like giving up 3 times a week, then you are not working hard.
His sessions and practise routines were so hard and difficult that I used to literally feel drained after each session. You won’t believe but I felt like giving up every day. Each day when I went home after training, I didn’t want to enter the pool again. But the love for the sport made me go to the practise the next day.
There was a period of around 5-6 months when my timings weren’t improving and even then I felt like giving up. I kept myself motivated and put in more efforts.
As I said, I have faced many injuries and that also affected my career.
Along with keeping yourself motivated, you also motivate people. Please tell us something about that journey.
I always tell people that you are your competition. Stay strong and don’t consider yourself inferior to someone. If you don’t feel confident and if you don’t trust your abilities then a person who is less talented than you will also defeat you for that matter. Always believe in yourself and trust your abilities.
“Love what you do and Do what you Love” is what I always tell people.
You recently had your name mentioned in the list of Asia Forbes 30 under 30. How was that feeling?
To be honest, I didn’t believe the news. The list was published on 1st April 2019. My friends told me about the mention but I didn’t pay attention to them at first as I thought they were joking on the account of 1st April. But after few hours I received the news through some of the authentic sources and I was on cloud nine.
Getting my name on the list was not even the part of my dreams. After I saw the happiness tears on the face of my parents, I felt like I have achieved something in life.
How do the media approach you? How much coverage you receive from them and what are your thoughts about it?
Media has been the best friend for me. It has been a great support from the media all the time.
You people at SportsBeatsIndia have also done a great job and covered a lot of articles.
Media has always provided me with the faith and the fact that swimming is beyond medals and is about giving your 100%.
There have been times when I was outside the country and there were time gaps, but still media has contacted me when they needed and they are really like great friends.
What is the message you will give to the youth?
I think I can explain what I want to say using my example, I believe that winning and losing are parts of the game and you can’t really win every time. You should give your 100%. You shouldn’t regret later saying that, Oh! I could have done better.
Whenever I get out of the pool, I make sure that I am satisfied with the efforts I have put in.
There is always scope for improvement even if you feel that you are the best.
I have ranked No.1 in India, Top 5 in Asia, and Top 12 in the World but even then I feel there is some scope of improvement every day.
Let’s take a Rapid Fire round!
Your Favourite Swimmer?
One sport apart from swimming you love?
Cricket. I am a big fan of Cricket.
Training in India or Abroad?
Actually both. But for now I would prefer training abroad.
World Championships or Paralympics Medal? Which will matter to you the most?
To be honest both. In the Olympics, not all countries can participate and it is also a multiple sport event whereas World Championship is a single sport event.
It is tough but I will choose Paralympics Medal.
Niranjan Mukundan is indeed a great source of inspiration and he is one of them whose life story will motivate you a lot. the way he expresses his views and the way he has developed himself as a human is magnificent.