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Breaking swimming records against all odds

The 30-year-old, Mohammad Shams Aalam Shaikh, a paraplegic swimmer is an inspiration to many people fighting against all the odds. He recently achieved success in swimming 8 kilometres in the sea along the Sinquerim-Baga-Candolim belt in 4 hours and 4 minutes at the first-ever wheelchair accessible beach festival held at Candolim. In conversation with NT BUZZ, Shaikh expresses his views on the importance of accessibility at public places, about his love for sports and a lot more

RAMANDEEP KAUR|NT BUZZ

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” this quirky idiom actually fits the life of Chennai based paraplegic swimmer Mohammad Shams Aalam Shaikh, who was a mechanical engineer by profession, a black-belt holder in karate with over 54 medals to his credit, including international gold medals. But Shaikh’s life changed after he was diagnosed with a benign tumour in his spine in 2010, that rendered his lower body paralysed and in spite of this, Shaikh has been brave enough to pursue his passion for sports. In February 2017, he had also participated in the 1st Universal Shotokan Karate Union (USKU) Asian Championship held in Goa under the differently abled category for which he won a gold medal.

On Saturday at Candolim beach, he swam 8 kilometres along the coast line of the Sinquerim-Baga-Candolim belt within a span of 4 hours and 4 minutes and breaks his own record of 6 kilometres for the longest open sea swimming by a paraplegic, which he had undertaken in 2014. “Completing this record was a challenge for myself because the previous record of 6 kilometres which I completed in 1 hr 4 seconds was in parallel to the sea and here the coast design was totally different, for about 5 kilometres I had to go against the tides which took a lot of time and the other 3 kilometres were parallel to the tide. It is a big achievement for me because swimming against the tides with spinal cord disability is not a small thing,” says Shaikh.

Explaining the reason behind attempting the record, Shaikh says: “The reason to attempt this record was basically to raise awareness that people with disabilities too can achieve their dreams.”

Shaikh adds that he would like to apply for the Limca Book of World Records, Asian Book of Records and the Guinness World Records. He says: “I am sure I will get through it because you won’t find a person with spinal cord injuries who has done the open sea swimming for such long durations.”

The paraplegic swimmer who started professional swimming in 2012 said that he was inspired to take up swimming after watching a Paralympic swimmer. “I was inspired by Rajaram Ghag, a Paralympic English Channel swimmer and Shiv Chhatrapati Awardee. He has been a big motivation in my life. He told me to try swimming as it will improve my health.”

Speaking about the difficulties he faced after he was paralysed, Shaikh says: “Initially the main difficulty was to get out of my home because the public places are not accessible. To go from one place to another I had to take a taxi as buses are not accessible, although we have a few accessible buses in Mumbai. The government should operate these buses across the country so it is easy for people with disabilities to travel and they don’t have to depend on others.”

Originally from Bihar, the 30-year-old feels that if the Government show its support in the making of an accessible society then a lot more people with disabilities can get the opportunity to explore places.  He adds: “And working towards an accessible society can also help in generating more revenue. For example, if people with disabilities are able travel to places like the non-disabled people then it will help in earning more revenue.”

Shaikh who has participated in international competitions says: “In Canada, the public places are very much accessible and people with disabilities do not need any support. I cannot compare Canada with India as they are a much more developed country and India, though a developing country, I think we lack in implementation because we have funds, a disability ministry and now that the Disabilities Bill is also passed, hence things should be implemented.”

Shaikh who was on his exam break for the MBA final exams at Sathyabama University in Chennai, came to Goa to achieve the record. When asked what sport means to him, he replied: “I come from a sports background and sport has been everything to me. Sports have taught me how to live life. Today wherever I am, it is because of sports.”

Sports have benefitted Shaikh enormously and swimming has even made his day-to-day activities easier. “I did not even have control over passing urine but swimming the butterfly stroke has helped me a lot and today I do not need a catheter to relieve myself. I was assessed with 100 per cent disability and in the latest assessment disability level came down to 72 per cent,” he adds.

Shaikh is now planning to participate in the 2018 Asian Para Games and is hoping to find the right coach to train him for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

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