Asian Age Group Championship: Maana Patel stages strong comeback after injury lay-off

A few words from the legendary Michael Phelps early this year acted like a booster dose for the 19-year-old swimmer.

Maana Patel claimed the gold in 50m back-stroke at the Asian Age Group Swimming Championship.

Maana Patel claimed the gold in 50m back-stroke at the Asian Age Group Swimming Championship.   -  A. M. Faruqui

Maana Patel is happy to be back to her chirpy self. After an 18-month injury lay-off between 2016 and 2018, following a tear in her left shoulder, she is inching towards her best. The evidence was in the pool on the opening day of the Asian Age Group Swimming Championship when she claimed the gold in the 50m back-stroke.

“I got a 29 [29.92s] after three years. So I am really happy,” the 19-year-old said with a grin. “I am gradually back to believing in myself and in the next few months, I will be up there and clocking personal bests.”

But those days she sat out because of the injury were “like hell,” she said. Ever since Maana broke all three senior backstroke records (50m, 100m and 200m) at a tender age of 13 back in 2013, the burden of expectations has been immense. She then dreamt about Rio 2016 only for things to take an abrupt turn.

“I just wanted to quit swimming. I thought I'd never comeback and I was finding it hard to believe in myself. I had insomnia and lost a lot of weight. I was depressed. Then surgeons told me I couldn't support a surgery because I didn't have big muscles. So I was asked to do physiotherapy instead. The rehab stretched to 1.5 years.”

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“The whole recovery process slowed down because I had stopped believing in myself. But my mother really helped me. She kept saying ‘if you come out of this successfully, it will help overcome other life challenges.’ I am glad I didn't stop.”

Things, she said, started looking up at the Senior Nationals in Thiruvananthapuram in 2018, where she swept all three backstroke events. A few words of motivation by none other than Michael Phelps early this year acted like a booster dose. “He told me that ‘if you have been out of the water for 18 months, then it will take 36 months to get back to the same level again.’ That sort of eased things a bit,” she said.

To be sure, Maana is still some way off. Her timing of 1:05.08 in the 100m backstroke on Thursday that fetched her a silver is good three seconds behind even the B-mark for Olympic qualification. But she is confident of improving. “I need to be patient. I basically tell myself that I have faced challenges before and I can do it again. There is nothing new. Just the water and me.”