Niranjan Mukundan is one of those bright sparks in life that fuels the resolve of ordinary mortals and emboldens them to dream. Born with a condition termed Spina Bifida, Niranjan has undergone sixteen surgeries to emerge the swimming champion that he is today.
You have answered this one many times before, but we have to ask you this, how did you start swimming? What are your earliest memories of swimming?
I started Swimming at the age of 7 when the doctors advised me to take it up as a part of rehabilitation and I took to the water like a fish and from there on took the sport very seriously.
Which is your favorite swimming style?
I specialize in Butterfly and Freestyle. The butterfly is a very tough and an elegant stroke to watch.
You have won numerous medals already. Any particular medal that stands out?
Winning 10 medals out of the 10 events in the IWAS World Junior Games 2015 and getting the crown “Junior World Champion” was an extraordinary moment for me. The bronze medal at the Asian Games is also cherished.
Sportsperson of Jain (Deemed-to-be University) as well as the recipient of the best sportsperson award from the Indian Government. Which is sweeter? How was the experience in New Delhi?
I would not like to compare both because both were heart touching, in fact, both were unexpected too. It was a wonderful feeling to be recognized as the Best Sportsman of India, and Jain (Deemed-to-be University) is known for sports. In my batch itself, there are so many sports stars, so it was a sweet surprise.
One of your stated goals is to participate in the Rio Paralympics. How is it shaping out?
My ultimate goal is to represent India in the Paralympics. I still have not clocked the qualifying mark and I am milliseconds away from achieving it. I hope to achieve it very soon
The Polish Open was your latest event – how was the experience?
It was a great experience to be in Poland and to be a part of the Indian team. I managed to finish in the top five positions in my category.
Training abroad for a few months has been on your agenda. How is that progressing?
I am in talks with a few of the coaches abroad and just waiting for their conformation. Once that is through, I will be off for some international training
What is your training routine on a normal day?
I practice swimming from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. and from 4 30 p.m. to 7 45 p.m. Apart from that, I do gym work and conditioning for 2 hours.
How important is mental conditioning in competitive sports?
The state of mind plays an important role in any sport. Especially in swimming, where you have a lot of unknown opponents. It is always good to have a strong, positive, and focused mind.
You have stated elsewhere that Rahul Dravid is your favorite sportsperson. From the swimming world, any swimmer whom you look up to?
Rahul Dravid is my role model and I was very fortunate that he was part of the mentoring team in an NGO, which is supporting me (GoSports Foundation). Apart from him, I also look up to Micheal Phelps, my all-time favorite swimmer, and the best Olympian so far.
Can you tell us about your equation with Sharath Gayakwad? Both of you are from Jain (Deemed-to-be University) and coached by John Christopher.
Sharath has been a very good friend, brother-like, and my best swim mate. Inside the water we are rivals and outside it, we are very good friends. To tell about John Christopher sir, he is that one person who expects perfection in everything he does and he has a “never give up” attitude which motivates us and keeps us going forward.
How has Jain (Deemed-to-be University) helped you in your endeavors?
Jain (Deemed-to-be University) has been very special for me. The University has helped me in all the ways possible. Be it attendance, extra classes, notes, or special exams. You name it, Jain (Deemed-to-be University) has provided it for us, sportspersons. I would like to thank Dr. Chenraj Roychand, President of Jain (Deemed-to-be University), for keeping hope and faith in me. He always took time out of his busy schedule and interacted with us and motivated us. He always used to say, “Niranjan attending class is a crime that you are committing, go and jump into the water.” I would also like to mention the name of Dr. U.V. Shankar, Director of Sports, Jain (Deemed-to-be University), for his unconditional support extended towards the Department of Sports and the sportsmen of Jain (Deemed-to-be University).
Have you been able to attend classes often? It must be tough balancing academics and training.
I have had some good attendance percentages in Jain (Deemed-to-be University) as I felt academics were also equally important. Yes, it was a bit difficult initially but having such an amazing University with all the help extended, I think it is easy to achieve both academic and sporting excellence
You are known to be an adventure freak. How did you plan to complete the Golden Quadrilateral turn out?
Well yes, I love to drive and I love to explore new places. Even when I travel abroad I always look for the longest route possible so that I will be able to explore new places and meet a lot of new people. I have already covered South India in my car, now I am planning to cover the Golden Quadrilateral, which I will do as soon as I have some time off from my swimming training. I am also hunting for a team, which can help me achieve this expedition.
Apart from sports, what else does Niranjan the individual like to do? What are your hobbies and passions?
I love to spend time with my family that is my parents, my sister, and my granny. Apart from that, I love to hang out with my friends, go on a long drive with friends, and maybe watch a good movie.
What lies in the future for Niranjan?
I am planning to swim till the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and maybe after that I would like to become an IAS officer.