As pools remain closed, Paralympic swimmer Suyash Jadhav keeps Tokyo 2020 dreams afloat by training in pond

With the coronavirus pandemic disrupting routines like nothing else before, swimmers like Suyash Jadhav have had to come up with creative, quick-fix solutions.

Amit Kamath August 11, 2020 08:38:21 IST
As pools remain closed, Paralympic swimmer Suyash Jadhav keeps Tokyo 2020 dreams afloat by training in pond

In a flurry of flailing arms and thrashing legs, Suyash Jadhav relentlessly pounds the chest-deep pool of water with all his might. A rope, fastened around his waist, prevents him from surging ahead. In the water that he’s swimming in, there really is no ‘ahead’: it’s a tiny pool of water, too minuscule to be a pond, or even an Olympic-size swimming pool.

Over the past couple of months, this pond, unsheltered from the elements like the unforgiving glare of the sun, has become home for Jadhav, a Rio Paralympic swimmer, as the coronavirus-enforced lockdown in India has cut access to swimming pools for Tokyo 2020 hopefuls.

“I’m currently living in rural Maharashtra. Since swimming pools are shut from March, I’ve been training in ponds and wells which are accessible where I stay. I’ve been doing whatever possible. It’s not that much. But it’s the best I can do,” Jadhav told Firstpost. “Since there’s no option, this was the best I could do rather than sit and mope about circumstances.”

At the previous edition of the Paralympics, Rio 2016, Jadhav competed in three events ― men’s 200m IM SM7, men’s 50m butterfly S7 and men’s 50m freestyle S7 ― but did not make it to the final of any event. He's confident that he can attain the A qualification standard for Tokyo 2020 in the 50m butterfly S7 and the 200m IM event. The A qualification standard guarantees a spot at the Paralympics.

“The problem is I can attain the qualifying mark only at an international event. The chances seem less of such an international competition happening at the moment. I’m confident if there’s an international competition, I can easily qualify,” said Jadhav, who has also been able to get some experience in the water over the past few months at a well near his house.

Jadhav usually trains at the swimming pool at Pune’s Balewadi Stadium, which has been shut since March, even as three stages of ‘Unlock’ have been announced.

As pools remain closed Paralympic swimmer Suyash Jadhav keeps Tokyo 2020 dreams afloat by training in pond

File image of Paralympic swimmer Suyash Jadhav. Image courtesy: Suyash Jadhav

Like him, most of India’s swimmers ― barring Sajan Prakash who’s in Thailand ― have found the months since March difficult as they look to fine-tune their bodies and abilities in the hunt for A qualification standards, which guarantee a ticket for Tokyo 2020. Some, like Virdhawal Khade, have even hinted that they’re mulling retirement.

When lockdowns around the world were first implemented in March, Olympians around the world found themselves locked out of gyms and training centres. Swimmers like most other high-performance athletes are creatures of repetition. But with the pandemic disrupting routines like nothing else before, swimmers have had to come up with creative, quick-fix solutions.

Sometime in April, a video of Russian swimmer Yuliya Efimova’s unique quarantine workout went viral. In it, the Russian swimmer can be seen doing breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle and backstroke drills with half of her body dangling off a kitchen counter. Canada’s three-time Olympian Brent Hayden, who came out of retirement for Tokyo 2020, started swimming in his parents’ backyard pool, with a rope tethered to his waist.

As the months have passed, pools around the world have been opened to swimmers. But Indians have not had any luck.

Jadhav says he’s been keeping track of which of his rivals have started swimming again through videos on social media.

“Staying focussed mentally was not a big issue for me during the lockdown. But yes, it did affect me a little to see swimmers of other countries hit the pool and train in earnest for the now-deferred Tokyo Olympics in one year’s time. A lot of my opponents, such as Colombia’s Carlos Serrano Zarate (three-time medallist at Rio 2016), have started training. Some of my opponents have their private swimming pools in which they have never stopped training,” he said.

Band-aid training

With pools off-limits, most swimmers have had to rely on ‘dryland’ training (literally training on dry land).

In Jadhav’s case, he’s been running on unpaved streets and using a resistance band to work on shoulder strength.

“I’ve been doing a lot of running ― from long- and medium-distance runs (10-15km) to sprints besides doing core workout. What I’ve done is substituted my swimming training with running drills. On days I used to do long-distance swimming drills, I now run for 10-15 kilometres. On days I used to short-distance swim drills, I run sprints,” he said.

Jadhav trains for two or three hours a day with two days per week dedicated to upper body, lower body and cardio fitness sessions.

“We’ve been trying to convince the state government and Sports Authority of India to open the pools for Tokyo 2020 hopefuls. I’ve tried to make up for my missed training sessions in the pool by running. Obviously, it cannot be a substitute for swimming.”

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