Little did he know that his mandatory swimming classes at school will turn him into a swimming champion one day. Born with a deformed left hand, Sharath M. Gayakwad is the first Indian swimmer to qualify for the 2012 London Paralympics. He has won six medals at the 2014 Asian Games and surpassed P.T. Usha’s record for most number of medals by an Indian at a global multi-discipline event. Overcoming challenges at every step, the 26-year-old Indian Paralympic swimmer from Bengaluru has won 40 national and 30 international medals, one of them being the bronze medal at the 2010 Asian Para Games.
Apprehensive of joining swimming classes initially because of his disability, Sharath eventually took up swimming at the age of 9 and participated in several swimming events for the disabled. His physical deformity made it hard for him to maintain the equilibrium. When school coaches could not assist a differently-abled swimmer, John Christopher took Sharath under his wing and worked tirelessly to prepare him for the swimming competitions. He also idolizes the Aussie swimming sensation Ian Thorpe.
A proud alumnus of Jain University, his alma mater also encouraged him for training. "I spent six hours for training and my college (Jain College) has been very supportive. I got admitted on sports quota with a good concession and got time for training. They also held special classes for me." The lanky swimmer won a bronze in the 100m breaststroke in 2011 and qualified for the 2012 Paralympics. Sharath has also been a medalist in the IWAS Games held in Taipei and in Bangalore in 2009 respectively.
In an acknowledgment of his efforts, the young swimmer was listed as one of three Indian sportspersons, along with Dipa Karmakar and Sakshi Malik by Forbes magazine among their Under-30 Superachievers in Asia. Under an athlete sports program sponsored by the GoSports Foundation, Sharath found a mentor in Rahul Dravid who motivated him to continue training and competing. When he was struggling with fitness issues, Dravid managed to talk him out of retirement and helped him swim leaving everything else behind. The wide-eyed swimmer was honored with the Arjuna Award in 2015 for his record performance. Sharath has been receiving support from the GoSports Foundation since 2011.
At present, he finds himself at the pool in Bengaluru with kids surrounding him in their trunks and googles eager to learn from their famous coach about the basics of swimming. With this coaching, he not only nurtures his ambition of being a coach but also enjoys a break from competitions. He is spending six hours a day coaching 80-odd kids along with some differently-abled ones. When he is not swimming or coaching kids, he relaxes with books and listens to music. Sharath is also a co-founder of Gamatics, a venture which provides high performance practice gears and equipments for swimmers.