The PACE to the Paralympics

Without the scholarship from PACE this year, I wouldn’t have been able to improve my performance,” says Sharath Gaykwad, the 21 year-old sportsman who created history in the field of Indian swimming this year.

Gaykwad, who is missing an arm, has been swimming since he was nine years old. But this year is special – he is going to the Paralympics 2012 in London. The swimmer, who is coached by John Christopher, has decided to take things as they come. “I always try to give my 100 per cent every time I race, so there is no pressure. I am just trying to get into the finals now.”

The swimmer is off to London with the support of Go Sports Foundation’s PACE (Promoting Aspiration Commitment and Excellence) scholarship, which was launched earlier this year.

In 2008, Nandan Kamath, Abhishek Lakshminarayan and Joseph Ollapally set up the Go Sports Foundation to aid budding young sportspeople.

“We knew that an intervention had to happen in this area. India doesn’t lack the skills, but there is a definite need for junior talent to be pushed,” says Kamath, co-founder, Go Sports, who also offers his skills as a sports lawyer.

The early years weren’t easy for the foundation. “When we first began, we were only able to help anecdotally, here and there. It was tough for us to get sponsorships for individual athletes. We learnt a lot over the years, which drove us to launch the PACE scholarships this year,” continues Kamath.

Paralympic swimmer Sharath Gaykwad trains with coach John Christopher. Pics courtesy/ go sports foundation

The PACE scholarships brought structure and value to their programme, and the founders found sponsors pouring in quite suddenly. “We now have an entire system in place with a nutritionist, sports psychologist, fitness trainer, coaches and so on. We provide them with a 360 degree management of their career — offering both financial and non-financial help,” says Kamath, adding that the cost of sponsoring the 21 sportspeople is about Rs 75 lakh to Rs one crore per year.

London calling
“When I am swimming I don’t think about the medals or the time. But I know I have worked hard for it and I just want to give my best,” says the swimmer, who leaves for London today.  He claims he loves going to practice. “It’s a great feeling, but it’s the workouts I hate,” he adds as a joke. Gaykwad, who spent the past two months in Australia under the watchful eye of coach Mel Tantrum, probably had to face a lot of those dreaded workouts. “I had eight training sessions a week which meant I was training for around 17 hours a week,” he reveals.

The swimmer, who idolises Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe, heard about the foundation from fellow para-swimmer Prasanta Karmakar. They have been sponsoring Gaykwad for the past year and a half, and he was thrilled to receive the scholarship this year. “It’s a really good feeling when a stranger shows interest in your achievements and comes forward to sponsor you, when it is actually the government’s job.” 

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