Recently, Sajan Prakash was at his lowest, recovering from a sliding disc in his neck, unable to perform even a single butterfly swing and miles of confidence that he could make the “A” cut for the Tokyo Games.
Limited to this day, Keralite is praised for becoming the first Indian swimmer to win a direct qualification for the Olympics. The 27-year-old took 1:56:38 seconds in the 200m butterfly race at the Sette Colli Trophy in Rome to make an “A” for the Tokyo Games.
The miraculous turnaround began in August 2020. Stuck in Thailand during the lockout, Sajan was not in the pool for seven to eight months.
To add to his physical injury, Sajan felt emotionally weak. He then decided to move to Dubai to train under coach Pradeep Kumar, a decision that allowed him to write a new chapter in Indian swimming.
It all started in 2019, when Sajan felt pain in his neck, but decided to ignore it. Things soon escalated and he failed to move his left arm at the South Asian Games.
“The neck pain started during the 2019 World Cup, but I thought it would miraculously go away. I took painkillers and swam, and then I went to a lot of racing,” Sajan told PTI.
“At the SAFF games in Nepal on the day of my event, I couldn’t raise my hands. Then I finally went for a scan and realized I had a sliding disc on my neck C4 C5 C6 radiating pain to my left arm.”
After completing his rehabilitation, just as Sajan was ready to return to race mode, the blockade blocked his progress. “I took a break until March for four months when I was doing rehabilitation. And then the lock happened, I was in Thailand and I didn’t have physical support. In August I moved to Dubai, my physiotherapist Mr. Richard started helping me. I saw the progress. which my coach and his wife also helped me with. “
Often considered the most difficult style of swimming, the butterfly required not only good technique but also strong muscles, and Sajan, who was still in pain, struggled with it.
“For the first three months I couldn’t make a single butterfly stroke, I wasn’t at all sure because I felt pain every time I jumped in the pool. I swam only in freestyle, and sometimes on my back, I didn’t push at all … I started to I swim slowly, building. ”
The priority was to become physically fit and mentally strong. “My first priority was to be healthy. I was injured and not mentally strong. Getting out of it was a big task for me. Strengthening my body and mentally strengthening was my first goal to achieve.”
“I had 50-50 beliefs when I started swimming in Dubai that I would participate in the Olympics. Before I got injured, I used too much pressure on myself to see the end result, thinking about the weather and that you have to achieve the goal.
“It made me forget all the basics, what I had to work on, the skill I had to work on. This mental instability and stress led me to injury.”
It was not until November-December that the pain subsided and Sajan regained the confidence to return to the pool. The result of the Latvian Open in February, Sajan’s first qualifying match, renewed his confidence that he could still qualify directly for Tokyo.
“When I went to the first Olympic qualifying tournament in Latvia, I hadn’t trained much for butterfly. But when I went there and swam for less than 2 minutes, my coach and I saw something good happening and started to build on it.
He has since progressed, shaving even more time to finally reach the “A” standard last week. But the 27-year-old’s initial reaction after the swim was not to rejoice, but to be heartbreaking.
“When I saw the time board, I saw the result of the swimmer next to me and I saw 1.50.80 and I was like ‘not again.’ Then I realized that it was not my time and when I saw my time, I felt lighter on my shoulders, I was in tears. ”