India has the biggest contingent at the Paralympics this year and it is filled with a number of stars, from different sports fields. One such name is Niranjan Mukundan, an incredible swimmer, who is looking to lift the tricolour high at Tokyo.
Niranjan Mukundan will be flying on the 27th of August to Tokyo for the Paralympics, with his event on the 3rd of the next month. He is currently undergoing a gruelling high-performance training stint in Bangalore. He was primarily training in Thailand. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he had to shift back to Bangalore and is presently training with his coach there. This will continue till he flies off to Tokyo. In Tokyo, he will have a couple of days to taper down, which should be really good for the event.
According to Niranjan it will be a big boost for India, that there are two swimmers from the country, who will compete in the Games. It is the first time since 1972 (Heidelberg Paralympics) that India will participate in Swimming at the Paralympics. He emphasised on the steady growth in the number of good performances by Indian para swimmers over the years. But with this being his Paralympics debut, all he is focused on is putting on a good show.
“Podium finish is not too far away, but I still want to take it one step at a time and make it into the finals. On the final day, it’s just the race that will decide the fate.”
It has been a long and arduous journey for Niranjan until now. Owing to the 19 major surgeries that he has had to undergo, society always seemed to look at him in a different light. People thought he would never stand up, or even be able to walk properly. Moreover, awareness regarding para sports and para athletes was severely restricted, even 10-12 years back. However, the strong-willed swimmer always wanted to:
“break that barrier, that stereotype of looking at a differently-abled person just from a sympathetic point of view”.
Niranjan Mukundan wishes to set an example for all the people like him, that even they can achieve their goals if they are courageous enough to follow their dreams. Para sports is now taken seriously by people after a number of remarkable achievements by para athletes in different international events. The social media platforms have been also a big factor for the spread of knowledge regarding para sports among people, and in turn, changing their mindsets. The government has taken up a lot of initiatives focused exclusively on para athletes. Thanks to all these, Niranjan believes that Indian para sports are on the right track and the disparity present before, has decreased vastly.
“As we step into the Paralympics, we are witnessing several World Number 1 who are going to Tokyo, as a part of the Indian contingent. That is the attitude that we have as we look to get our Tokyo Paralympics campaign underway – we are already winners”.
Niranjan’s biggest support system is his family. With that he has been greatly supported by the GoSports Foundation for the past 9 years. With the Foundation’s efforts, Niranjan has gained access to multiple experts, which has helped him a lot in his training. Among the other organisations whose assistance is the most notable one is that of FINA (Fédération Internationale De Natation) training group in Thailand. Back in 2016 Niranjan got a scholarship to go to Thailand for a high-performance training stint, for a month. He was under the tutelage of a Spanish coach who later offered him a scholarship, till the Tokyo Paralympics . For Niranjan, it was a massive opportunity to absorb more knowledge and tactics from some of the best minds in the game.
“The thing that I liked the most about that training group was that there were around 30 different swimmers, from 30 countries, who had a single goal- to make it to the next Olympics; Paralympics for me. I had a great European team to train under and I underwent 3 years of training there. I felt it was a beautiful exchange of culture and knowledge.”
A podium finish has been one of the goals for the young Indian swimmer for a long time, even before he began training for Tokyo. Both him and the training team had realised by then that they were getting stronger as a unit. It might be a tough ask for him to win a medal in Tokyo, especially this being his debut campaign at the Games. But, with his coach, his trainers, etc. all trying to map out the long-term picture, Niranjan believes he is well on the way to clinching a medal.
“The duration between this edition of the Games and the next, has already been reduced to 3 years. With qualifications scheduled to begin a year to a year and a half before the Games, Paris will be here in the blink of an eye. So athletes and their teams need to be planning for the future well in advance. However, for the time being Tokyo is in my mind.”
Swimming has given him an identity and a life and he always wants to give back to the sport that has made him into what he is today. Niranjan’s long-term plan is to launch his own foundation to nurture the next generation of athletes, both abled and para. He wishes to explore more about disability, inclusiveness, etc., in India, and ensure that the needy get access to sports and education.