Despite 19 surgeries, Niranjan off to Tokyo Paralympics with a war cry

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Niranjan Mukundan is one of the two Para swimmers bound for the Tokyo Paralympics, which start on August 24.
Niranjan Mukundan is one of the two Para swimmers bound for the Tokyo Paralympics, which start on August 24.

The Indian contingent for the Tokyo Paralympics has several stars, and one such name is Niranjan Mukundan, an incredible swimmer.

Niranjan will be flying to Tokyo on August 27, with his event scheduled for September 3. He is currently undergoing a gruelling high-performance training stint in Bangalore. He was training in Thailand, but because of the pandemic had to shift to Bangalore. In Tokyo, he will have a couple of days to taper down which will be good for him.

 

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According to Niranjan, it will be a boost for India that there are two swimmers from the country at the Games. For the first time since 1972 (Heidelberg) that India is participating in swimming at the Paralympics. This being his debut, Niranjan is focused on putting up a good show.

Also Read: ‘After Sindhu, nation’s focus will be on Para Badminton in Tokyo’

“A podium finish is not too far away, but I still want to take it one step at a time and make the finals. On the final day, it’s just the race that will decide fate,” he said.

It has been a long and arduous journey for Niranjan. Owing to the 19 major surgeries that he has had to undergo, society always looked at him in a different light. People thought he would never stand up or even walk properly. Moreover, awareness regarding Para
sports and Para athletes was severely restricted even 10-12 years back.

 

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However, the strong-willed swimmer always wanted to: “break that barrier, that stereotype of looking at a differently-abled person from a sympathetic point of view.”

Niranjan wishes to set an example for people like him, and that even they can achieve their goals if they are courageous enough to follow the path. Para sports is now taken seriously after remarkable achievements by Para athletes in international events. Social media platforms are also a big factor in spreading knowledge regarding Para sports and changing mindsets. The government has taken up initiatives focused exclusively on Para athletes. Thanks to this, Niranjan believes Indian Para sports are on the right track and the disparity has decreased vastly.

“As we step into the Paralympics, we are witnessing several World No 1 who are going to Tokyo as a part of the Indian contingent. This is the attitude we have as we get our Tokyo Paralympics campaign underway; we are already winners.”

 

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Niranjan’s biggest support system is his family and has been ably supported by the GoSports Foundation for the past 9 years. With the Foundation’s efforts, Niranjan has gained access to multiple experts which has helped him in training. Among other organisations whose assistance has been crucial is the FINA (Fédération Internationale De Natation) training group in Thailand.

In 2016, Niranjan got a scholarship to go to Thailand for a high-performance training stint for a month. He was under the tutelage of a Spanish coach who later offered him a scholarship till the Tokyo Paralympics. For Niranjan, it was a massive opportunity to absorb more knowledge and tactics from the best minds in the game.

“The thing that I liked the most about that training group was that there were around 30 swimmers from 30 countries who had a single goal to make the Olympics and Paralympics. I had a great European team to train under and underwent three years of training there. It was a beautiful exchange of culture and knowledge.”

 

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A podium finish has been one of the goals for the young Indian swimmer for a long time, even before he began training for Tokyo. Both he and the training team had realised that they were getting stronger as a unit. It might be a tough ask to win a medal in Tokyo, especially this being his debut campaign at the Games. But, with his coach, trainers trying to map out the long-term picture, Niranjan believes he is on the way to clinching a medal.

“The duration between this edition of the Games and the next has already been reduced to 3 years. With qualifications scheduled to begin a year to year-and-half before the Games, Paris will be here in the blink of an eye. Athletes and their teams need to be planning well in advance. However, for the time being Tokyo is on my mind.”

Swimming has given him an identity and he wants to give back to the sport that has made him what he is today. Niranjan’s long-term plan is to launch his foundation to nurture the next generation of athletes, abled and Para. He wishes to explore more about disability, inclusiveness and ensure that the needy get access to sports and education.

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Also Read: At 40, Devendra Jhajharia eyes third Paralympic gold