Pune’s 14-year-old asthma-conqueror willing to swim distance to an Olympic medal
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Pune’s 14-year-old asthma-conqueror willing to swim distance to an Olympic medal

I wanted to make a career in swimming and make my country proud, says Shalmali Walujkar.

pune Updated: Apr 23, 2018 17:44 IST
Pranav Shahaney
Pranav Shahaney
Hindustan Times, Pune
Shalmali Walujkar in action at the Champion Aquatic Club in Mayur colony, Kothrud. (Sanket Wankhade/HT PHOTO)

At the recently concluded Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018, the Indian swimmers may have returned back home empty-handed, but the sport is not dying in the country.

Thousands of swimmers of various age groups train week in and week out to make their mark on the international circuit and turn their passion of gliding through the water into a professional career option.

Such is the case of 14-year-old Shalmali Walujkar from Pune studying at Ahilyadevi High School. Recently, she made her parents and coaches proud when she won the long-distance swimming competition at Goa. Shalmali finished first in the 2km event of the 8th Enduro Sports Goa Swimathon with an impressive timing of 32 minutes and 37 seconds. Giving an insight about her experiences, she explained, “My coach Vinay Marathe told me about the Swimathon competition in Goa. He felt that I had what it takes, not only to compete but also do myself and my family proud and actually challenge for first place. I am extremely grateful to him.”

Born to Monika and Sameer Walujkar, Shalmali was born with asthma. However, her parents found a way to eradicate the breathing disorder.

Ashish Phalke, swimming coach, who at the time trained Shamali’s sister Sanika Walujkar, suggested that making her swim would free her of her asthma problems.

Thus, without giving it a second thought, Shalmali began training under his tutelage. Within three to four months, she could feel the improvement in her breathing technique and also realised that her asthma problem which had been a thorn in her side since birth had now been taken care of.

Speaking about her initial swimming experiences, she said, “My first coach Ashish Phadke suggested that taking me to the swimming pool and practising daily would help me overcome my breathing problems and miraculously within a few months everything was back to normal. Then, as I started to polish my strokes and was getting better, I began training under Vinay Marathe and decided I wanted to make a career in swimming and make my country proud by winning an Olympic medal.”

While the primary purpose of swimming was completed, the joy it gave her made her take up the sport on a serious competitive level. Now she doesn’t train just because she has to, but because she wants to.

Marathe told her about the various competitions, not just at the school level, but also at the national level and certain other competitions that took place in other countries as well.

The mutual respect and adulation certainly go both ways as Marathe is equally impressed by what he has seen of Shalmali. He’s been through every step of the way and has seen her turn into one of the city’s most talented young swimmers.

“It took her about six-eight months of training before she could compete in tournaments, but she was sincere since day one and her attitude was right. She is hard working and had an inclination towards long-distance swimming and I felt that training her would be extremely beneficial. So I’m glad things worked out for the best,” said Vinay Marathe

Academics, given Shalmali’s hectic schedule, isn’t of grave concern to her parents.

“Yes her swimming does come in the way of her education, but she manages to cope. Her school has also been very helpful regarding her situation and grants us leave whenever required,” said her father Sameer Walujkar.

Monika Walujkar, Shalmali’s mother, says, “Yes we do play a great role in her development. We take her to her classes, are constantly motivating her and are there by her side whenever she needs us. Whatever career choices she makes, we will support her through them.”

First Published: Apr 23, 2018 17:24 IST