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Paralympic swim champ from Pune held back from international event

Paralysed from the waist down, champion paralympic swimmer 13-year-old Vaishnavi Jagtap has got a chance to be India’s sole representative at a prestigious junior international competition in US, but lack of funds and civic and state apathy may hold her back

Not being able to use 75 per cent of her body, including her legs, has never stopped 13-year-old Vaishnavi Jagtap from dreaming of, and achieving, things that would make ‘normal’ kids stop in their tracks.

Vaishnavi Jagtap
Undeterred by adversity: Pimpri resident Vaishnavi is a gold medallist at the regional level, two-time state swimming champion and a winner at many district-level competitions. She is 75% disabled. Pic/Mohan Patil

State and civic apathy may just, however, deny the champion paralympic swimmer a very important milestone.

Vaishnavi Jagtap and parents

Vaishnavi, a gold medallist at the regional level, two-time state swimming champion and a winner at many district-level competitions, has been given a chance to be India’s sole representative at the junior international paralympic swimming competition organised by the Pan Pacific Swimming Association, which will be held from August 6-10 in Pasedena, California.

Her father Vinod Jagtap (42), a Class III employee of the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation, however, is finding it impossible to arrange the nearly R4 lakh corpus which will be needed for Vaishnavi to take part in the competition.

The family could barely put together the R10,000 entry fee and claims that both the PCMC and the sports department have shown no interest in helping Vaishnavi represent India at the prestigious event. This, despite PCMC being Vinod’s employer
‘Insensitive’

“I could barely collect
Rs 10,000, which was the entry fee for the competition. For one person to make it to the championship, the cost, including airfare, is close to Rs 1.93 lakh.

Since Vaishnavi is 75 per cent disabled and is paralysed from the waist down, it would be mandatory for either her mother or me to accompany her. Thus, I will need to arrange R3.86 lakh, which I just cannot afford,” said a helpless Vinod.

“My daughter will be the lone Indian participant in the junior category of the championship However, we will not be able to send her to the competition, if we cannot collect enough money” said Vaishnavi’s mother Uma, adding that she was disappointed with the insensitive attitude of the government towards sportspersons.

Born champ
Vaishnavi, Std VII student at Jaihind School in Pimpri, was born disabled. The doctors prescribed physiotherapy and she began taking swimming lessons when she was four.

“We took immense efforts in the hope that she would start walking on her own feet one day. There was not a single therapy we did not try.

However, since she developed an interest in swimming, she has never looked back,” said Uma

It was a proud moment for the Jagtap family, when Vaishnavi swam for more than 2 kilometres in the Malvan sea in Sindhudurg district. She has also won gold medals and represented Maharashtra in paralympic swimming competitions held in Chennai and Bangalore.

Not giving up
While her family is worried, Vaishnavi is busy practising to make her parents, Pune and India proud. “I am practising for two hours daily to maintain my present speed.

My strategy is to use freestyle, backstroke, and breaststroke to win the upcoming competition,” she said.

Asked if she had any idea of the tough financial situation her family is in, she said, “Whatever my parents could do for me, they have done, now it is my turn to make them proud”.

The other side

State sports minister Padmakar Valvi said that there is a provision to give funds to sportspersons who cannot afford tour costs. “They should have come to me before, so that I could help them in time. Since the assembly session will start soon, I will now only be able to help them at the end of the June, after meeting with the sports committee,” said Valvi. The mother, Uma, how-ever, said they have to raise and submit the tour cost by the first week of June. “We received the letter of selection on May 1 and sent an application well in time,”  she said.

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