Rajini Lakka, a 57-year-old woman from Ballari offers children with disability free swimming lessons, while also helping them excel at several state- and national-level tournaments.
“Persons with disability want the world to treat them like people, and not like ‘disabled’ people. Instead of assuming that persons with disability cannot do certain things like excel at sports or be fashionable or go on a road trip, if one makes way for them to do all that they want to, that is treating them like a person,” says 57-year-old Rajini Lakka, a beautician-turned-swimming coach for children with disability.
The Ballari-based swimmer trains children with disability in swimming and encourages as well as assists them to participate in different paralympic tournaments across the country.
Rajini, who got married when she was 16, had never had a chance to learn swimming until recently. It was in 2005, when a new pool opened in her locality that her dormant wish to learn swimming awoke.
“I was always busy with the household, children and my parlour. There was no time. But now that my children have grown up, I decided to realise my childhood dream. I was an athlete in school and participated in javelin and shot put competitions. Even my husband encouraged me when I told him about it,” she said.
A born athlete and a natural at swimming, Ranjini soon started participating in tournaments and won several medals. From swimming, she turned to coaching. Her first stint at teaching children with disabilities happened when she was approached by volunteers at Round Table India. Ranjini agreed readily and decided that she wouldn’t charge a fee for the classes.
“Most of the parents of these kids are poor. I wanted to boost their morale and show them that they too can do it,” says Ranjini.
She has secured level 1, 2 and 3 coaching certificates from the American Swimming Coaches Association as well as a certificate from the Canadian Red Cross Course.
Since the past three years, she has been coaching 12 children with different disabilities- physical, mental as well as the visually, hearing and speech impaired. She prepares them for state- and national-level swimming competitions.
One of her students, Gopichand, lost his legs, but thanks to Rajini’s coaching, he has mastered 200m freestyle and 200m backstroke.
“It feels awesome to be able to swim. I love being in water. I am now learning backstroke and butterfly stroke,” says Gopichand.
When asked about whether she uses specific methods of training according to every child’s needs, Rajini smiles and says, “Yes. It is the most important aspect of training children with disability. Each child needs to be trained in a different way. I have also found that when I use simple, positive language, it keeps them going. I make sure that I am with them during every tournament to encourage them to swim fast and motivate them to win medals. Swimming helps their overall development, that’s for sure.”
The results of her dedication and hard work have been beyond positive. Her students have won medals in different competitions at the state as well as the national levels.
“Last year, my students won 11 medals at the State Championship and 2 medals at the National Championship. This was a very proud moment for me. In addition, a hearing-impaired child won a medal in the National Open Championship. This year, they have brought home 21 medals. This is such a morale boost not only for the children, but for me as well,” she says.
A token of appreciation has come her way from the district administration as well. She is now allowed to use the government swimming pool at the District Stadium to train the children. Happy with the results of her hard work, Rajini has now taken on four new students and trains them every day.
“There are many children who need this kind of support. There are not enough special schools with facilities to train children in sports. I feel that the government needs to pay attention to these facts and make sports training accessible to children with disability,” concludes Rajini.
To contact Rajini Lakka, click here.