Started swimming at 5. Her first National Gold Medal at 10! Meet 14 year old Shriya Ishwar Prasad, National Medallist, who is wise beyond her years. Shriya believes that swimming allows personal goal setting to push oneself to greater heights. Her rapid improvement with her own timing in the last few years is evidence of her progress as the nation’s top breaststroke swimmer for her age group. Her greatest strength is her single-minded focus and strong mental ability to perform her best when it matters, uninhibited by the bigger stage. She is a child with humility and has been appreciated many a time by her school for her matter of fact response to her achievements.
Shriya aspires to swim for India one day. She currently trains 9 sessions a week with fitness included as part of her regime. She is good with her academics too and follows a regular school regime.
Although Shriya’s forte and technical prowess in breaststroke is clearly evident from her performances, inviting appreciation from the swimming fraternity of other States too, she has also made huge progress in freestyle and Individual Medley due to her dogged determination.
Interview with Shriya Ishwar Prasad
What challenges did you face, in getting to where you are today?
There are several challenges I have faced as a swimmer, and I personally think it all revolves around one question – “Do I have what it takes?”. Every time I do worse than my best timing, be it by a microsecond or a few seconds, my confidence levels sink. I sit for hours analysing where I went wrong and where I could have done better, but sometimes there is no answer – it was just a bad day! I have also faced many challenges when it comes to dealing with my coaches. At times, some of them have brought down my confidence levels so low, that it has taken a lot of effort to get it back on track.
What drives you to get up in the morning and go training every day?
More than anything, I want to get up in the morning and train because it’s the only way I will experience the feeling of touching the board at the end of the race and finding out that I have clocked my personal best time. At that point, I am exhausted, but I can feel nothing but happiness. All the anxiety and nervousness fizzes out. This feeling is miles better than going out with my friends and staying up late at sleepovers. Waking up is something I have still not gotten used to, but it is well worth it!
What is important to you?
Apart from swimming, I study, blog, read, listen to music and spend time on photography. Of course, I would love watching TV for hours, but I firmly believe that swimmers must take their minds off the pressures of their sport and regularly focus on their academics. Also, being a swimmer requires me to go ahead of my class, so I won’t miss out on what is being taught in school. So much so, that sometimes I land up being ahead of my class. I am passionate about the social cause of ‘gender equality’ as stereotyping is something I deal with on a daily basis, training in India. Apart from this, ‘human behaviour’ intrigues me and I am fascinated by what was going on in the minds of ruthless dictators of the past when they behaved the way they did.
How does being an athlete make you a better person?
Being an athlete doesn’t let my focus waver. It makes me prioritise wisely as I need to maintain the balance between my sport and my academics. I know that I have to work hard to achieve my goal, and so I train sincerely and put myself through difficulty without complaining. Swimming has also taught me how to handle victory and failure. These are the qualities required to achieve any goal in life, isn’t it?
One word that describes you?
What do you give up to play sports?
To be honest, I very rarely think of what I have given up, because I truly enjoy the whole process. But I sacrifice going to birthday parties, hanging out with friends, sleeping late, waking up late and definitely eating junk food. These are perhaps, the opportunity costs of pursuing my passion.
What mental tool do you use under pressure?
I have tried using Headspace to handle my nervousness, but I honestly feel that music is the best therapy for the nerves. The right music before a race helps you visualise and compose your thoughts.
What is your mantra?
As calm as music
If you could play another sport, what would it be ?
Diving, as I am often mesmerised by the way the human body can twist and turn in this sport. As a leisure activity, I love scuba diving and even have my first PADI certification as an open water diver. Trust me, its a whole different world down there!
What expectations do you have of a coach?
I expect my coach to appreciate me when I do well, tell me where I went wrong when I make a mistake without being judgemental, and help me push myself beyond boundaries in the water. I also expect my coach to communicate well with me, and provide me with all the moral support and motivation I require before a challenging race.
At what age did you know that you wanted to become a professional swimmer?
At the age of 10 when unexpectedly, and to everybody’s surprise I won my first national gold medal. That is indeed an unforgettable moment in my life.
What do you do to calm your butterflies when you compete?
I do get nervous, especially when I am swimming the 200 m breaststroke – an event that has only lately been introduced to me. It is a challenge that demands a lot out of my mind and body. It is also very skill-based, unlike the 50 m race. But when I am nervous, I tell myself that I must believe in my training and divert my attention to thinking about my pacing and visualise how I am going to execute the race as soon as the whistle blows.
What coaches, teachers or other people have been great influences in your life and why or how?
All my coaches and teachers have always believed in me and each one of them has had a tremendous impact on my swimming career. They have never judged me by a bad performance or race, and they have always reinforced the fact that I can achieve wonders with my dedication. They act as mentors, more than just coaches / teachers, and make me believe in myself and push myself every day. I am also very inspired by the Indian Olympians Sajan Prakash and Virdhawal Khade, who truly shine in their events, despite all odds.
What one word or phrase do you want people to associate with your name?
What kind of philanthropic work are you involved in, if any?
None as of now, but I soon intend to teach children in local villages around me to swim, and foster the love for the sport.
What’s on your iPod right now? (What music genres and which artists do you enjoy listening to before a match?)
I listen to a variety of music – Hindi, English, pop, rap, classics, etc. Before my race, I listen to “Whatever It Takes”, by Imagine Dragons that really gets my heart rate up.
Why do you think everyone should play a sport?
A sport is something that teaches you how to handle victory and failure – something everyone will face in different forms at some point or the other in their lives. It also teaches several other things like the determination and perseverance required to pursue your passion in life.
Which sport would you not let your child play? Why?
I would not restrict my child from playing any particular sport. My interest in swimming came from no one in my family, but it just turned out to be the only sport I was interested in. My daily bout of breathlessness in the pool is what I enjoy to get my day started. I would allow my child to pursue any sport, as long as there is passion, intent, and enjoyment involved in the decision. I wouldn’t let this decision be affected by the opinions of others like friends or family, because you should never dedicate your time to something just because someone else asked you to or because someone else is. It doesn’t work that way.
What do you do to keep fit? Nutrition?
I do fitness in the form of core work, cardio, strength training & endurance. I follow a well-balanced diet, and since I have a sweet tooth, I eat dessert only during the weekends and completely stop eating dessert for months before an event.
How do you incorporate mindfulness practices into sports?
Sometimes, I visualise my race from beginning to end when I am sitting at home, a few days before my race. Subconsciously, my breathing pattern would have changed to that of my race. So my coach once told me to visualise my race once a day, for 15 days before my race. He told me that I will not be half as nervous on race day, as I would have already put my mind through it 15 times, and that my race is 90% mental and only 10% physical.