Meet The Paralympic Sportsman Who Broke P.T. Usha’s Records

Sharath Gayakwad was born with a deformed hand. He took up swimming as a mandatory activity in school and developed a passion for this sport. Today he has over 90 medals in his kitty and has become the first Indian to win six medals in a multi-disciplinary sport event. Meet the amazingly inspiring sports personality and hear his views on disability.

What started as a compulsory activity in school changed Sharath Gayakwad’s life and he became the first Indian to win six medals in a multi-disciplinary sport event at the Asian Para-games in Incheon, South Korea, 2014. He broke the record of legendary P.T. Usha who had won five medals at the 1986 Asian Games.

Sharath Gayakwad won four golds in his first nationals.

Sharath Gayakwad won four golds in his first nationals. Picture Source: MikeLynch / Wikipedia

In spite of being born with a deformed left hand, Gayakwad was always interested in sports and took up swimming at the age of nine when it was made mandatory in his school as a life-saving skill.

“I enjoyed football and cricket, but then swimming became a compulsory activity in my school. I was a little reluctant to opt for it and even my family was hesitant in letting me take up this activity as they weren’t sure whether I’d be able to pull it off. But gradually, after much practice and support from the coach, I not only learnt to swim but also started enjoying it and thought of taking it more seriously,” Gayakwad says.

The start of a victory path

After school, Gayakwad continued to pursue swimming as a fitness activity and participated in his first national level competition where he won four gold medals.It was amazing. I did not expect such a huge success and it gave a boost to my confidence. I became surer of taking up swimming as a career,” he says.

Though his family wanted him to go for higher studies and get a more academic-based career, he persuaded them to allow him to follow his passion, and eventually they did. After that, Gayakwad just went from strength to strength, as he was selected for 2003 FESPIC Youth Games in Hong Kong where he won one Silver and four Bronze medals.

Gayakwad coaches many students to become successful swimmers.

Gayakwad coaches many students to become successful swimmers.

Gayakwad’s passion for the sport and dedication has won him over 39 international medals and 55 national medals so far.

Overcoming the challenges

“How many people have a talent that can save someone’s life? Which sport enables you to help others? It is swimming. It is not just a sport activity but a life-saving skill and that is why I am so fond of it,” he says.

The disability is something which he doesn’t think about much now. “It is a part of me and I have accepted it and even found a way where it doesn’t matter anymore,” he says. Having faced challenges initially in doing things as basic as putting on clothes, there is nothing that Gayakwad cannot do now.

“Yes of course I am at a disadvantage, but it doesn’t stop me from doing anything that I actually want to do,” he says.

Apart from the obvious difficulties, another challenge which Gayakwad faced was financial constraints. Arranging funds for the training, resources, etc. was something Gayakwad had to struggle with. “I guess, this is the case with most para-athletes and not just me. There should be better facilities available,” he says.

A deformed left hand did not stop him from breaking some of the highest records.

A deformed left hand did not stop him from breaking some of the highest records.

The future

A champion swimmer, Gayakwad is also an amazing coach and trains many students in swimming. An athlete or a coach, which part does he enjoy the most? “Coach!” he responds instantly. “It gives an immense pleasure that I can pass on this skill to someone else. Of course I enjoy swimming too, but there is a different kind of satisfaction which comes with coaching,” he says.

Gayakwad wants to continue coaching and train more students in the future. On being asked whether he wants to open his own academy, he says a clear “no”. He wants to stick to a limited number of students so that he can pay close attention to their needs and progress.

I guess it is very important to identify your strength and work on it. Never think you cannot do something, it just might take a little longer than others ,” he concludes.

We congratulate Gayakwad on his achievements. Indeed a charming personality, Gayakwad has inspired many people at such young age and we hope for a great performance from him at the next Paralympics.

Stay tuned as we will be bringing to you more such incredible personalities we had a chance to meet at the India Inclusion Summit 2014.

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