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I've never had a back-up plan: Olympian swimmer Rehan Poncha

At 26, Rehan Poncha is an Olympian swimmer and Arjuna awardee. What then prompted him to take up golf, a sport he’s taken up from scratch? Poncha speaks to Deepali Dhingra about his new-found passion and also his two-day skill-sharpening swim clinics that he offers to swimmers for competitive programmes 

A few days ago, swimmer Rehan Poncha posted on his Twitter account, ‘I’m going to do in one lifetime what most sportsmen don’t do in two.

 After reaching  the Olympics in swimming,  Rehan Poncha wants  to do the same in golf. Pic/Subi Samuel
 After reaching  the Olympics in swimming,  Rehan Poncha wants  to do the same in golf. Pic/Subi Samuel

Call it arrogance, I call it attitude’. What prompted this Olympian swimmer and Arjuna awardee to post a comment like that? Well, after becoming three time Senior Nationals Champion, five time Junior National Champion and two time Overall Best Athlete at the National Games, bringing home medals for India at several Asian meets including the Malaysian Open, Singapore Open and HK Open, and clocking in four of India’s best ever performances at the World Championships from 2001 to 2009, Poncha has turned his focus towards another sport — golf.


Children attending the swim clinic give all their attention to Rehan Poncha as he demonstrates a diving posture

It was when Poncha was taking a much-needed break from the pool after failing to qualify for the Athens Olympics in 2004, that he decided to try his hand at golf as a hobby on a relative’s suggestion. “I instantly fell in love with the sport and after only a day on the driving range, I decided to take it up seriously. I’ve always wanted to be the best at what I do, and it was only natural that it would take over my whole day and before I knew it, I was training six hours a day!” And his level of commitment can be gauged from the tweet he posted recently. “Qualifying for the Olympics and representing the country is the ultimate goal for any athlete. It took 16 years of very hard work for me to get there, and it was a dream come true. Now I’m done with swimming and training in golf and I’d like to believe that someday, I’ll be good enough to represent India in this other sport at the Olympics as well,” he smiles.

Rehan Poncha looks on  as swimmers take their position in the pool at a two-day skill sharpening clinic at Hiranandani Club, Powai Rehan Poncha looks on as swimmers take their position in the pool at a two-day skill sharpening clinic at Hiranandani Club, Powai

For Poncha, who was born and raised in Mumbai, and then Bangalore, competition is in his blood. So how does somebody who’s at the top of his game (swimming), start from the scratch with another (golf)? “I hate losing, and I’ve had to face a lot of that of late because I’ve only just started and I’m competing against players who have been doing this all their lives,” admits the sportsman, but paradoxically, that’s what keeps him going as well. “Thank god for my competitive ego. It doesn’t let the fear that I may not be as good on the fairways as I was in the pool, stop me from working hard. That’s until, I get as good on the greens as I was in the water,” he adds.

But it’s not as if Poncha’s given up swimming. In fact, he’s trying to give back to the sport, in his own way, by offering a two-day skill sharpening clinic, based on his own extensive experience of racing and training, to help swimmers in competitive programmes become stronger, better and faster. The idea behind conducting such clinics came to Poncha when he recalled that he always longed for a mentor when he was learning to swim. “I wanted someone who had been there, done that and could share that very real, current experience,” he adds.

At his two-day swim clinic for competitive swimmers, which he calls Swim Smart with Rehan Poncha, he works on refining stroke technique, teaching them how to train smart through the week, advise them on pre-race preparation, diet and gym work as well. “I always end my clinic with a motivational talk for the swimmers as an athlete’s state of mind is as important as him being physically ready in a race,” he says. Poncha’s teachings are based on his personal journey, what he did through his swimming years that he found worked for him. The first such clinic was held at the CCI and the second one at Hiranandani club at Powai. “I’ve had inquiries about my clinic from a lot of Mumbai teams, and also from Delhi and Jaipur, as the news gets out on my social media sites. Once it gets warmer up north, I’ll probably be travelling and taking these clinics national,” he reveals.

For the athlete, it’s golf that’s top priority at the moment and he plays eight hours a day all week. “My swim clinics are on the weekends. It works great for me because I train hard all week and get to do another thing I love on the weekend,” he says. As we end our interaction with the accomplished sportsman, we can’t help but ask if golf is a great back-up plan or more than that.

“I would never do anything unless I love it and it’s only because I adore this sport that I do it all day. Now that I’m in it, I might as well shoot for the stars! I’ve never ever had a backup plan. I live for the moment and for the day,” he adds. He admits he gets scared sometimes thinking what if he’s not able to achieve what he’s set out to do in golf, if the reputation he’s built as an athlete in the pool over all these years take a beating. “But then I go back to train the next day, and know that if I don’t give it a shot, I’ll never know if I could live up to that tweet I recently posted,” he smiles.

Rehan Poncha’s factfile

>> Started swimming when he was just six years old
>> Has represented India in Commonwealth Games, Asian Games In Doha (2006) and Busan (2006), Asian Swimming Championships (2006, 2009), Asian Indoor Games, Vietnam (2009), Asian Age Group Championships, Japan (2009)
>> Poncha qualified for the men’s 200 m butterfly at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing
>> Poncha is an Arjuna awardee and an Eklavya awardee

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