Breaking four National Records and winning four golds in four consecutive days in the National Swimming Championship 2023 in Hyderabad, from July 2 to 5, was no piece of cake for the 19-year-old Aryan Nehra.
On day three of the Nationals, after the 1500m freestyle record, the longest race of the competition, Aryan was physically drained and tired with the hot, humid climate and the outdoor pool setup not helping him.
“After my first race, I surprised myself, and I knew I was ready for a pretty solid swim. Then my expectations for the rest of the races were through the roof.”Aryan Nehra to Sportstar
After his 15:29.76-minute lengthy swim for the record, Aryan dreaded competing for the 400m individual medley the next day.
“It(1500m race) takes a lot out of me, and I’ve never been the best at coming back the next day and swimming well. I was afraid that it might happen again and was worried that I would not live up to my expectations and hype from the rest of the races,” the swimmer told Sportstar.
Contrary to his beliefs, Aryan not only won gold in the 400m medley but broke the national record by more than four seconds with a time of 4:25.62.
Aryan, who was awarded the best male swimmer at the Nationals, said, “I was pretty happy that I managed to get the job done on the last day as well, and that was a pleasant surprise for myself too.”
The swimmer from Ahmedabad went into the Nationals after a disappointing National Games performance a few months back, with no expectations of securing a national record given that he had just travelled from the United States a week prior.
“Going into the Nationals, I kept reminding myself that this isn’t the real focus, it’s just a pit stop.”Aryan Nehra about the Olympic dream
“When the meet started, I told myself to do my best and that it’s just another competition. But after my first race, I surprised myself, and I knew I was ready for a pretty solid swim. Then my expectations for the rest of the races were through the roof,” told the 19-year-old.
Despite the Nationals not being his focus, his record-breaking spree in the 400m and 800m freestyle during the first two days was worth noting.
Aryan, who had qualified for the Swimming World Championships in Japan with a ‘B’ qualification mark and Asian Games 2022 in the 800m and 1500m freestyle events, said, “Going into the Nationals, I kept reminding myself that this isn’t the real focus, it’s just a pit stop. My focus is first on the World Championships, I would learn from that to perform better at the Asian Games 2022 and make my Olympic dream come true next year.”
Had Aryan been more into the butterfly stroke, Michael Phelps might have been his inspiration, but since freestyle is the Indian’s cup of tea, he failed to find the one athlete who dominated the stroke.
“There’s not been one insanely dominant figure in the past, and the one that might have been, turned out to be a bit of a drug cheat, so that kind of changed things,” he joked.
Aryan looks up to his parents’ work ethics and hopes to imbibe it. “They are hard-working people, striving to give me and my sister the best opportunities. So, I’m trying to learn to make sacrifices and prioritise them.”
With over a decade of experience in competitive swimming, Aryan, the son of an IAS officer, has to endure a long process to achieve the results he wants, which includes spending time away from his family.
“When I’m abroad, I miss home, but I’ve spent so much time away from home that I’m used to it by now. When I was a 13-year-old, leaving home for the first time, I was a lot upset about it than I get nowadays. I try to stay in touch with my family the best I can,” told the national record holder.
Currently training with the Florida Gators swimming team of the University of Florida in the United States of America (USA), which has Olympic Champion Caeleb Dressel as its alumnus, Aryan isn’t too bothered by the performance pressure.
The training atmosphere in the USA is something Aryan wants to be incorporated in India.
“We have great swimmers present (in Florida), and we’ve had a few great swimmers in the past. My real heroes are the ones that are there with me when I’m not at my best. The ones with me now are doing an amazing job of keeping the environment so lighthearted daily,” he said.
Talking about the swimming program by Inspire Institute of Sports in Vijayanagar, he said, “I wasn’t fortunate enough to have opportunities so close to home.
But with the IIS Vijayanagar swimming program, several kids are having that opportunity back in India, and I wish that was something I had back then.”
IIS CEO Rushdee Warley, who had been keeping an eye on the Ahmedabad swimmer for years, finally signed him eight-nine months back.
Despite Aryan not performing his best at the National Games, Warley was impressed with his demeanour.
“Just watching him and understanding his demeanour, temperament, and his willingness to learn was something that we found very interesting. Aryan is a fantastic role model, and I think many young swimmers in India will be looking up to him right now, and for us, that is important,” said Warley.
Warley, who has years of experience in the aquatic world, which includes coaching Swimming South Africa, and leading the 2012 Olympics campaign for the New Zealand swimming team, mentioned that there was no shortage of swimming talent in India.
“We have to find ways of developing talents from the grassroots because it’s not only about being a sport but also a life skill,” Warley said.
“Wider you develop the base, it would be easier to get more children to enter the sport, and create more opportunities, whether in local meets or low-level competitions where they can experience the sport. The more athletes you have, the more likely it is that you’re going to get a higher level of competition, and it’s from there that the top and talented swimmers will rise.”
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