In Conversation with Sajiri Kamat
Sajiri is a FY BSc student at GIPE. She is a seasoned swimmer who was the first to represent GIPE at the All India University Games in December. She also won a gold medal at the Kurukshetra sports tournament organised by Flame University in the 50m breaststroke category. In this interview, Sajiri talks about her experiences at the games, her journey during COVID, and what’s in store for her in the future.
- Firstly, Sajiri, you were the first to represent GIPE at the All India University Games organised by the Association of Universities. Tell us about your experience and how you feel.
Well, being an entrant definitely put me under some pressure. I often struggle with thoughts like- “What if I don’t perform well? Will they still send me next year?” But these are thoughts that you overcome on the day of the competition.
My overall experience was great! I have in fact competed in around 1000 tournaments over the past eight years. What made this time different was the fact that earlier I swam with national-level players but this time, I swam with Olympic-level players. My competitors were World Championship swimmers and national record holders. It’s a totally different feeling when you compete with that elite class of the swimming community. You learn to introspect and in many ways differentiate between the good and the great.
- Tell us about your performance and all the events you participated in. Also! what style do you specialise in?
I gave my personal best! There were almost 200 swimmers there and I came 9th by 5 milliseconds, 10th by 6 milliseconds and 12th by a whole second in three of my main events. To generalise, I swim all strokes – Breaststroke, Backstroke, Freestyle and Butterfly, but I specialise as a breaststroker and swim all event distances- 50mts, 100mts, 200mts.
- This was the first competition you contested in after a long break due to the pandemic. How did you train for the competition and what goals did you set?
It was truly difficult to cope, because in swimming when you miss even one day it takes three more to get back on track. So, my coach Swojas Godse and I had to make up for losing 2.5 years through rigorous training. From August 2022 to December 2022 i.e six months we increased my training to 5 hours of swimming and around 2 hours of dryland training each day. It was a collective effort of my physiotherapist, Hemant sir, dietician Mihira, sports psychologist Mrunmayi and of course my coach. I always believe that one should set goals that excite them and not that exhaust them. So the goal was not to win medals but to give my 100%, my very best. It was Me vs. Me and not the Olympic Swimmers vs. Me.
I just wanted to break the stagnancy in my timings, which I eventually did!
- Talking about the pandemic, it was a difficult period of time. Being a sportsperson, you were not allowed to do what essentially made you, well, you. Mentally and physically, how did you cope with this?
A swimmer generally has a stagnancy period of around 2-3 years, which for me had ended just before the pandemic. So as the pandemic dawned so did my horror. I still remember, the first few days were great, and my sister and I enjoyed ourselves a lot but, later on, things went south. We started becoming cranky during our training timings and sitting at home became tough. My sister and I used to wear our swimming costumes, caps, and goggles and would just stand under the cold shower.
I started with online Yoga and online stationery strengthening exercises and that’s about it.
I truly don’t have a concrete answer as to how I ‘managed’ the pandemic.
- Having experienced it first-hand, I know that the task to send your entry for the Games was a quest in itself. What difficulties did you face?
God! It was exhausting. It started with my reaching out to my swimming coach and sports coaches from other universities. I went to Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) for this and got lost there for around twenty minutes before reaching the sports office. Getting clear guidelines regarding the documentation from the host University was a major difficulty but my university, GIPE, supported me every step of the way. There was this confidence given to me by Dr Anurag Asawa sir and Prof. Jayanti ma’am- “ki agar kuch chahiye ya baat karni ho, then udhar se ek call karo, I will talk to the authorities.” (If you need anything or want us to talk to anyone, just give us a call and we will handle it) and that was truly relieving!
- BSc Economics is a relatively new course at GIPE, what could the institute do better to promote sports?
The institute should hire a sports representative or director, who could look after the entries and all the upcoming competition dates regarding all sports across the board. Many sports enthusiasts from the institute want to compete but are clueless about the dates and the entry procedure for competitions. I would like to add, other than that GIPE has been as emotionally supportive as it has been financially.
- Going back to your roots, you have been swimming almost all of your life. What made you fall in love with it?
The objectivity of the sport is what drew me towards it and continues to do so. It’s just you vs. the clock and seeing how far you can push yourself. The feeling of solitude is immense when I push the block and dive into the water, it’s just me and the water. It’s a sport where only you can define your performance in your own lane at your own pace. The water just eliminates all the chaos in the surrounding. Swimming is a mind sport more than a strength, you can’t be aggressive with the water to go fast, you just have to swim along with it and go with the flow.
- What made you pursue swimming as a competitive sport rather than keeping it a hobby?
I was into track and field sports till the fifth grade, but due to some serious injuries, I was not able to play any ground sport. So I started swimming. I don’t like doing something just for the sake of doing it, I would rather master it. Swimming began as a rehab therapy, but later its techniques and the feel of the water just made it irresistible to keep it just as a hobby.
- What has swimming taught you?
Swimming has moulded me into the person I am today. I would say swimming taught me a book of things! But the thing that kept me going through life, in general, is that “success is a decision”. I believe that the choices I make today will define me tomorrow. Every morning, I make the decision to either stay in bed and skip my 5 a.m. practice or swim and lose those hours of extra sleep. If you think this opportunity cost of success is too high; wait till you get a bill from regret. The most difficult one was between Spirit week and training. With a heavy heart, I had to skip Spirit week, to train. Do I regret missing out on socialising like that today? Maybe a bit, but the happiness of giving a personal best in just five months is worth more than that. This mindset, this personality was imbibed within me by swimming.
- Swimming and school must have taken up most of your time in a day. Did you pursue any other sports? Any different hobbies?
After balancing swimming and studies together, I just run out of time more than energy. Still, I manage to give time to painting as a hobby. I used to play the harmonium and even gave four exams, but later on, I just fell short of time to practise it.
- Many sports people tend to give up competitive sports as their education takes priority over it. What are your goals? Do you still intend to pursue swimming competitively?
I guess this dilemma comes in every sports person’s life, especially in India. After 10th, there was a period where I thought about quitting swimming. “Bohot medals, bohot states, bohot nationals ho gaye…. I guess that’s enough.” (I’ve won a lot of medals and contested in many state and national level tournaments. I guess that’s enough). That period made me realise that swimming really is my passion and not something that I can quit easily. So, yes, I will continue to pursue swimming competitively. My personal goals are to be happy, healthy and to be surrounded by people whom I love and trust the most.
- Megha Kajale