The Swimmer with an MBA: In Conversation with Anshul Kothari
The life of a student athlete is always challenging. Training along with college level academics is demanding. But Anshul Kothari knows the secret of managing both. He is an Indian swimmer who has competed in a variety of Asian and Commonwealth Games and has completed his post-graduate degree from one of India's top institutions in management, the Indian School of Business (ISB).
1. Thanks for giving me this interview. You had been diagnosed with a chronic flat foot condition in your childhood. This, in a way, paved your path for success in swimming. Can you please share your story that gives us perspective on how you became the player that you are today?
Initially, I played cricket and did swimming before settling down on swimming because most doctors suggested that it would improve the strength in my legs and lead me to avoid surgery, which anyways had a 50% success rate.
2. What kept you motivated and how did you train in your beginning years? When did you decide to take the plunge into competitive swimming?
At first, swimming was just for my fitness and improving the strength in my legs, but soon my coach felt that I have the potential to win medals, so that led to the beginning of my competitive swimming career. As the initial years went by, I prospered from the goals of winning national medals to representing India in the more important championship events.
3. You are a highly accomplished student as well, receiving both engineering and business degrees. Can you please elaborate on your education and how you managed to pursue both sports and academics at the same time?
Education was always given more importance in my family, and I also always had an interest in studying. However, at the same time, I never wanted to give up on my sport as I still had an unfulfilled dream to represent India in swimming when I started pursuing my engineering degree in 2008. It was always difficult to manage academics and competitive sport, but with proper time management, determination and grit I was able to achieve my goals.
4. What encouraged you to pursue an MBA? Can you share your experience of being awarded the 'torchbearer award' at ISB?
Back in 2016, I was travelling around the world to achieve a qualification mark for the Olympics. However, I missed it by a small margin. It was quite heartbreaking, and I needed a mental break from swimming. I was always interested to pursue an MBA, and it was just about the correct timing. I had never planned to continue swimming while doing my MBA as I knew it from before that a year at the ISB would be very fast paced and there would be no breaks from studying. However, somehow I regained my interest in swimming and once again with precise time management, I was able to manage both sports and academics. I believe that where there is a will, there is a way.
5. Coming back to swimming, you have competed at the CWG and the Asian Games multiple times. What was your experience like at these games? Was there anything in particular that you did to train for these competitions?
In 2010, I made my first appearance in the CWG and the Asian Games, and it was more about getting to the international stage and the experience of racing against top swimmers. In 2014 and 2018, it was more about trying to reach the finals in the events and winning a medal. My future goal is to train hard and qualify for the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.
6. Swimming is not as popular in India as it is in, say, the United States or Australia. How can we improve?
Swimming definitely has a lack of attention in India as compared to other sports even though it has the most number of medals on offer at every big multi-sporting event, including the Olympics, the Asian Games, and the CWG.
There are many reasons why we are behind in swimming. As a nation, we need an infrastructure as advanced as what the swimmers in other powerful swimming nations get. Also, in India, there is not a lot of financial incentive for swimmers, which is perhaps the main reason why people quit the sport after the 12th grade or post their college graduation. However, those years are when the body is at its physical peak or yet to reach its mark in the case of most swimmers. So we lose lot of potential medal winners in that span of time, something which doesn’t happen in other countries.
Going abroad to train with world-class swimmers for a long duration is a tough ordeal as most swimmers or their families in our country don’t have the capacity for such elaborate funding. The government and the federation are definitely helping us, but like other sports, we definitely need support from the corporate sector in terms of sponsorships and jobs so that we can train without worrying about our future.
Most of the swimmers in India are left with no choice other than to take up government jobs or rely on education. Even with these government jobs, PSU companies don't offer positions to swimmers unlike other athletes. A swimmer, as of now, can only get a job in the Railways or in the Armed forces.
7. Now that you have completed your degree and with the Olympics in Tokyo coming up, what is it that you have planned in mind?
I have not planned anything beyond 2020. I will decide after the qualification process ends next July.
8. Is there any particular diet, training regime or fitness routine that you follow for different events?
I have changed my diet a lot over the years, especially in the recent times as I have to maintain strength and at the same time not be too heavy. My diet is a mix of protein, carbohydrates and fibre. My practice regime involves 3-4 sessions of weight training and 8-9 sessions of swimming per week.
9. Who is your inspiration?
Michael Phelps has always been my role model.
10. Finally, what tips would you like to give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Chase your dreams and work hard. Don’t listen to people who discourage you. Also, young swimmers should always keep an eye on their future and not quit their education. Even swimmers in top sporting nations such as the US and Australia pursue education and swimming simultaneously.