No money, no time: Here's what is slowing down India's fastest swimmer
He was barely 17 when he became the youngest swimmer to represent India in an Olympics event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 19 when he ended a 24-year dry spell for the country by picking up a bronze medal in the 50-metre Butterfly category at the Asian Games.
Now 24 years old himself, he is India’s fastest man in water, holding national records in several categories. A resume like that leaves no room for doubt that Virdhawal Khade is not someone who lets obstacles stand in his way, but overcomes them with sheer hard work and willpower.
Khade is working for the state revenue department as a tehsildar at Dahisar with an additional charge of the Khar office, which leaves him with little time to practise. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
And yet, with less than a month to go for the prestigious World Championships in Russia a qualifying event for the Olympics next year, which the swimmer has his eyes on Khade is facing his toughest battle to date.
Keep the medals coming: Khade at his office in Khar and (right) after winning the bronze medal at the 2010 Asian Games in China
While other top Indian swimmers like Sandeep Sejwal and Aaron D’Souza are preparing for the Championships under the guidance of national-level coach Nihar Ameen in Bangalore, Khade is in Mumbai, juggling between handling a full-time job with the Maharashtra government and struggling to find time to practise so that he can make the state and the country proud.
“I can’t swim full time anymore. It’s difficult to do my job and swim as well. The most difficult thing is to keep yourself motivated to work hard on both fronts,” Virdhawal told mid-day. What’s adding to the star swimmer’s woes is the fact that neither the government nor private companies have come forward to help him with the costs involved in attending the championships in Russia, which begins on August 1.
Khade, who used to focus only on his swimming until 2013, joined the revenue department of the Government of Maharashtra that year. Currently working as a Tehsildar at Dahisar with an additional charge of the Khar office he has double duties as a class I officer Khade says he misses out on practice on many days. “Being a tehsildar is different and it is a really big responsibility. You have to deal with a lot of people. Managing all these things is a big challenge,” said the 24-year old swimmer.
To balance both his work and passion and ensure he doesn’t let his countrymen down, Khade is sticking to a gruelling schedule. “I wake up at 4.30 am and practise from 5.30 to 8.30 am at Khar Gymkhana.
I’m in office at 10 am and finish work at 5 pm. From the Dahisar or Khar office, I head to the gymkhana again and practise from 6 pm to 8.30 pm,” said Khade, who is participating in the 50-m and 100-m Freestyle events at the World Championships. Khade’s best time right now in the 50-m freestyle is 22.55 seconds.
He aims to clock 22.02 seconds for a berth in the Rio Olympics next year and Khar Gymkhana’s veteran coach Subodh Dankhe, who is also the General Secretary of the Greater Mumbai Amateur Aquatic Association (GMAAA), has no doubt that he will achieve it.
“Virdhawal is more focused now and I am confident he will clock his best time in the 50-m freestyle event in Russia,” the Shiv Chhatrapati Awardee said.
No monetary help
Getting help has been very difficult for Khade, despite being one of the country’s top swimmers. “It’s really difficult to get sponsorship so I am paying around Rs 2 lakh from my own pocket so that I can attend the World Championships and my father is also helping me out.”
This, despite the government supporting him financially for five previous World Championships that he has been a part of. The 24-year-old is taking leave from July 13 to August 7 to represent India at the championship, which begins on August 1 and ends on August 7.
“I like winning medals for Maharashtra and for India and that is something I would like to be able to do for the next two-three years at least,” said the youngster.
The other side
“The government pays for swimmers who have qualified for the World Championship and Virdhawal has qualified through the national championships held in Kolkata last year. The Swimming Federation of India will be speaking to the sports ministry in this regard on July 8,” Kamlesh Nanavati, General Secretary of Swimming Federation of India told mid-day.