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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

Special Olympics silver medalist Sawant, first at winning the second-chance life has handed him

Having won a silver and two other 4th and 5th placed medals at the Abu Dhabi event over the past two weeks, the 21-year-old is now feeling ‘special’ in the true sense of the word.

pune Updated: Mar 28, 2019 17:16 IST
Pranav Shahaney
Pranav Shahaney
Hindustan Times, Pune
Rohit Sawant has already etched his name into the Limca Book of Records by swimming for 13 hours and 07 minutes non-stop in the swimming pool at Bal Kalyan Sanstha, Ganeshkhind on February 28, 2014.
Rohit Sawant has already etched his name into the Limca Book of Records by swimming for 13 hours and 07 minutes non-stop in the swimming pool at Bal Kalyan Sanstha, Ganeshkhind on February 28, 2014. (SHANKAR NARAYAN/HT PHOTO)
         

Helping athletes with intellectual disabilities finding joy, confidence and fulfilment – on the playing field and in life – is the foundation on which the Special Olympics were started way back in 1968 and it certainly seems to have had a positive impact on city swimmer Rohit Sawant.

Having won a silver and two other 4th and 5th placed medals at the Abu Dhabi event over the past two weeks, the 21-year-old is now feeling ‘special’ in the true sense of the word.

After suffering a serious injury to his head when he was only four years old and another to the back of his head a few years later, Sawant was diagnosed with autism (A serious developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact).

However, on being reassured by the doctors that his condition would improve if, given the right medication, he and his family heaved a sigh of relief, but to no avail. In fact, the course of medication only worsened his condition, leaving him stuck on the mental age of an eight-year-old.

At this stage, it was easy for the boy, who found out the harsh realities of being a physically challenged, to ostracise himself completely from society, but to the contrary, he decided to fight whatever challenges that stood in his way.

Yes, it took him some time to come to terms with the way other people saw him and often led to him being depressed, but through swimming and dancing, he has been given another shot at living his life, and he certainly has taken it with his chest pumped out in pride.

Mrunal Sawant, Rohit’s mother, explained how difficult it was initially for her son to cope with everything happening around him and how leaving school and losing the friends had a negative impact on him.

She said, “It was extremely hard for him to come to terms with it as he was initially going to a normal school. After the accident, that stopped and people around him started calling him mad and wouldn’t let him play with them.

“He soon started finding happiness through swimming and dancing and now that’s where he started becoming more confident. Now, he does not get anxiety or stage fright and is happy to be surrounded by people.”

A Special Olympics medal was one of the initial goals that Sawant set himself before getting into the pool for the first time.

He knew that it was nigh on impossible to do his mother proud through his academic prowess, and believed that winning a gold medal would not only bring a smile on her face but also pave the way for him to join the Army – something he has always dreamt of.

He failed in his quest to win the gold but wasn’t too disappointed with the silver medal he won in the 100m freestyle event with a timing of 01:41:40. Jamaican Andrew Barthlomew (01:39:07) finished first, while Malaysia’s Muhammad Bahri (01:46:94) settled for the bronze.

In Dubai, it proved to be an obviously unique experience to stay away from his family but it was something that Sawant had braced himself for and claimed that he did not shed a tear despite missing the presence of his loved ones.

“I wanted to go to Dubai and win a gold medal but during the tourney, I fell sick which impacted my health and I had to settle for silver. I couldn’t travel or stay there with my family, but it was fine. It’s was my aim to get into the Army so I did not cry even though my family wasn’t around me,” said the silver medalist.

While his mother is still not completely sure whether or not Rohit will get into the Army, she believes it’s important for him to have an aim because it will motivate him to continue doing what he is while also improving himself on the way.

He has already etched his name into the Limca Book of Records by swimming for 13 hours and 07 minutes non-stop in the swimming pool at Bal Kalyan Sanstha, Ganeshkhind on February 28, 2014.

Mrunal believes that this is only the beginning of what she envisages as a very fruitful swimming career ahead for her son.

Rohit’s cousin brother, Rahul Sawant, has also played a pivotal role in keeping the 21-year-old happy and motivated in all times.

Giving up lucrative hotel-management related jobs in bigger cities, Rahul decided to stay in the city and begin dance classes for his younger brother.

His passion for dancing saw Rohit getting certified as a Zumba instructor and along with swimming, he now also coaches other special Zumba dancers.

He was also invited to Orlando, Florida in the United States to receive the Zumba Passion Awards along with his brother in 2015.

With his vivacious and never-say-die attitude, Sawant is setting the pathway for a number of special persons and their parents that are ashamed of their conditions. Balancing both swimming and dancing along with his home-schooling on weekends, the city boy is on his way to achieving superstardom and could one day be part of the Armed forces if things go as planned.

First Published: Mar 28, 2019 17:14 IST