Virdhawal Khade, the youngest swimmer to have represented India at the Olympics, is an inspiration for many. In fact, his life story is a part of the class 10 syllabus in Maharashtra state schools.
Taking part in the 2008 Beijing Olympics as a 16-year-old, Virdhawal failed to qualify for the semi-finals of the 100m freestyle. However, he did set an Indian national record of 50.07 seconds during the heat. The highlight of his career, though, came when he bagged the bronze medal in the Asian Games in 2010.
However, the talented swimmer went off the radar in 2012 after he was given the post of a Tehsildar in rural Maharashtra by the State government. As a result, his training took a huge hit. He would go on to miss the 2012, 2016 Olympics and the Commonwealth Games in 2014. Now, though, he is gunning for a fresh start.
The Arjuna Awardee has never backed away from any challenges in his life and is now, preparing for the upcoming Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.
In an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda, the 26-year-old Kolhapur-born swimmer talks about his association with swim-wear brand Speedo, his preparations and aspirations from the two upcoming major events and more. Here are excerpts:
Q: How are the preparations going for the CWG and the Asian Games?
Training for the Commonwealth and Asian games has been on-going since the senior nationals last year. It's fantastic to be a part of the Indian team for the Commonwealth Games.
Q: What are your expectations for the two upcoming events?
I've trained hard and I expect some positive results. Commonwealth Games will be my first big competition after a few years. It will be a good tester for me to help me train better and better my performance at the Asian games later on. a medal at the Asian games is my target.
Q: So, going back to the beginning, when and why did you decide to take up swimming as a career? How has Speedo helped you give a head start to your career?
I started swimming at the age of 4. It was never my choice. My father got me into swimming at a summer camp in Kolhapur. It became a career much later after I started winning and enjoying it. Thankfully, I am still addicted to it and that’s what keeps me going.
Speedo has always been my favourite swimming wear brand. Growing up, I remember loving my Speedo goggles as a kid and have always had a special place for Speedo in my heart. Also, in 2008 when I qualified for the Olympics, I was involved with Speedo and they helped me in a big way then and hopefully, the same will continue in the future and together we will do bigger things.
Q: Can you describe your journey from being an aspiring swimmer to becoming the youngest Indian swimmer to represent the country at the Olympics?
As a young swimmer, I wasn't too fond of the hard work and sacrifices. But when I started winning at the National Level, I was addicted to winning and I just wanted to win everything there was to win. It kept me going and even today it drives me to work hard every day.
Q: So, in 2012 you were appointed as a revenue inspector in rural Maharashtra, right? Can you tell us how it affected you, in terms of your career?
I am appointed as a Tehsildar in Maharashtra. It was a huge change for me. It was a bit challenging but I was really curious about what happens and how the government works. Having to work in an office every day meant me swimming lesser and It is unfortunate that I missed out on the 2014 Commonwealth and Asian games while I was working. I would have loved to be a part of it. But it's not too late and I'm back in the Indian team and working as hard as ever to win for India.
Q: How do you balance a daily-job with your day-to-day training regime?
It is close to impossible. Training 6 to 7 hours and day and working 10 to 5 every day is close to impossible. Especially in a place like Mumbai, where travelling takes so long. I am in Bangalore now thanks to the Collector of Mumbai Suburban District. He has helped me a lot in the past few months to train like I would like to.
Q: Now, you will be training at the Dolphin Aquatics Swim Academy, a-state-of-art facility. How do you think this will affect your performance?
It will be of huge help to me. Since 2005, I have always felt we lacked when it came to world-class infrastructure in India when it came to sports. We have all that we need to train hard and in our best capacity and compete with the world.
Q: Are you looking forward to competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics? How exactly are you preparing for it?
I'm taking it step by step. Having gotten back into full training 6 months ago I am thrilled to be a part of the Commonwealth Games and hopefully winning a medal at the Asian Games 2018. If things go as per plan, we will be on track to swim better than we ever have at the Olympic games and hopefully get a good result.
Q: What do you think the future holds for aquatics in India? How do you think Speedo is helping in promoting and encouraging the sport in India?
India has come a long way in terms of international results in the past few years. We should medal at the Olympics soon. Speedo has been at the forefront of the improvement in swimming globally. In India as well because of the stores and the availability of the best of costumes and other gear for upcoming swimmers it would be a huge boost for the swimmers to perform better in training every day, and at competitions.
Q: Lastly, I wanted to ask you this one question…Your story is a part of the Class 10 syllabus in Maharashtra... How do you feel about that?
It's a matter of pride for me. It's things like this that make an athlete feel the years of hard work and sacrifices have been worth it. Hopefully, my story will inspire an Olympic medallist of the future.