Interview with Aakansha Vora: "Didn't expect best female athlete award at the 2015 National Games"
The recently concluded 2015 National Games highlighted the growth of swimming in India, both the best male and female athlete awards were taken by swimmers. The latter was won by Maharashtra’s teenage sensation Aakanasha Vora.
The 17-year old won five gold medals and a silver to announce her claim as India’s number one female swimmer. But little do people know, her growth trajectory began at the tender age of three.
Starting her competitive swimming career as a five-year old, helped Aakansha gain the experience required to transition to the national level, at a very young age. She trained under various age groups before finally graduating to the big leagues and what a transition it’s been.
With Indian swimming entering its golden generation, Vora is clearly a cornerstone of that prospect. However, with little or no infrastructure or financial incentives, the swimmer might have to choose between education and her sport, at some point.
We caught up with Aakansha in an exlcusive interview as she prepares herself for the 2016 Rio Olympics qualifiers.
Q. How did your tryst with swimming begin?
Initially, I took it up just to learn it as a life-skill, but as I got more into it I started liking it even more. So, it transitioned from a recreational activity to something I really loved doing. Now it’s my passion.
Q. Did you go into the event keeping a certain target of medals?
I never thought that I would win five medals, considering the line-up present at the event. Racing against Richa Mishra has always been my dream because she’s been my idol ever since I started swimming.
My only goal was to perform to the best of my abilities and thankfully, that’s what happened.
Q. What do you have to say about the current scenario of swimming in India?
Well, it’s a known fact that India loves cricket, the sport’s fans are a billion strong. However, swimming is taking baby steps towards recognition. The Swimming Federation of India (SFI) is taking steps to develop the sport as we see more tournaments coming up.
Q. You have earned national success at just 17, what are the things you learnt across various youth levels?
Well, over time I started liking the middle distance races such as the 800m, 1500m. Another thing would be how to control my mind. One would be lying if they say that they aren’t intimidated before a race, but once you hit the water, all those aspect go out of the window.
It’s just a race with a bunch of people swimming, that’s the attitude I have once I hit the water. Apart from that a major change has come in my technique.
Q. Was it difficult to transition from the junior to senior level?
You will be surprised to see the amount of competition at the top, not just at the senior level, but also the junior level. Half the line-up at the National Games was from the junior level i.e my age, so it’s coming along great!
The standard of the junior and national level is almost the same.
Q. Any swimmers from the current generation that you look up to?
Of course, Michael Phelps, but my personal favourite is Sun Yang from China, because I like long distance swimming. My dream is to one day have an effortless stroke like his.
Q. Considering you’re just 17 and in India, has education harped your growth?
No, in fact, I am doing very well in school right now. Plus, my school goes out of their way to support my swimming career. However, yes at one point I might have to choose between the two, I hope that situation never arises.?
Q. How are preparations for the 2016 Rio Olympics coming along?
Right now, I’m looking at smaller tournaments such as the Nationals and junior Nationals to prepare myself for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Of course, the next step would be the FINA World Championship in Russia, but I’m taking it step by step.