Niranjan Mukhundan is one of the most decorated para-swimmers in India. The 26-year-old secured a bipartite invitation to the Tokyo Paralympics 2021 and will make his debut at the Games, which get underway on August 24.
He has a stacked resume with many international medals. From taking up swimming at the age of seven for therapy, Niranjan Mukundan has come a long way. His journey from facing adversities as a teenager to becoming a world-class para-swimmer has been nothing short of inspirational.
Niranjan Mukhundan and his entry into para-swimming
Niranjan Mukundan was born in Bengaluru, Karnataka with a rare medical disorder called spina bifida. However, he was also born with a fighter's mentality.
He underwent 19 surgeries since birth to treat his condition, and at the age of seven, his doctor advised him to take up either swimming or horse riding as a mode of therapy.
Intimidated by the stature of the horse, Niranjan Mukundan decided to take up swimming instead, and there has been no looking back for him ever since.
He picked up the sport in just two weeks after being enrolled in classes and showed great potential. One of the head coaches at the academy spoke to his parents, as they were sure that Niranjan had a bright future ahead.
Niranjan Mukundan's rise to being the best para-swimmer in India
Niranjan Mukundan completely bossed the national circuits in India and carried his brilliance to the international stage. He won 10 medals at the 2015 World Junior Games in Stadskanaal, Netherlands, which included seven gold and three silver. His outstanding performance that year saw him crowned World Junior Champion.
He also had a stunning outing at the 2016 IWAS Junior World Games in Prague. Niranjan won a total of eight medals, including three gold, two silver and three bronze.
His terrific achievements on the international stage helped him win the Eklavya Award in 2016 and the National Award for the Best Sportsperson of the Year in 2015. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Mukundan said:
"I was expecting a medal at my first competition representing my state but I lost pretty badly. At that moment, I questioned my fate: Why I was born with a disability and I wanted to give up on my dream. My swimming journey has been put on hold several times due to surgeries. It has not been easy. But with each surgery, with each setback, I envision I am getting better and stronger."
India will be participating in swimming for the first time since 1972. The last Indian to take part in the event was Murlikant Petkar, who won a gold medal at the Heidelberg Paralympics. Niranjan Mukundan could well be India's next medal hope in para-swimming.
Having won over 50 medals in his career, the Indian will hope to win one at the Paralympics and cement his name as one of the greatest para-athletes in the country. Speaking at TEDxNMIMS Bangalore, Niranjan Mukundan said:
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"Given my condition, I could have probably been at home and just be another ordinary child. But, I wanted to take the world challenge. I wanted to prove the world that the differently abled are no less than anybody else in the world. My biggest dream of them all is the Paralympics, which still awaits and is my next and immediate action."