By Sonali Desai & Anup Akkishetti

A child with a disability is often considered a ‘responsibility’ but some parents took charge to give their disabled child a common platform to pursue their interest. And those children one day brought dozens of medals for their country. They are handicapped, mentally retarded and deaf and dumb but today they are the ‘swimming stars of India’. These heroes are from Belgaum who are very proud of the place, and also thankful to their swimming enthusiasts who have helped them by sponsoring their training expenditures.

Atish Jadhav (Mentally retarded)
On 3rd July, 2011 Belgaum was filled with glee to celebrate the victory of Atish Jadhav who had won Gold medal at Special Olympics World Summer Games held at Athens. Ask him how he feels today he says in Marathi, ‘chaan’ (nice), and smiles. He then takes out his gold medal and shows how he swam in actions.
“When he had come his neck was lying on his shoulder, and no one had imagined that one day he would look so fit. We had a procession near the swimming pool after he won the gold medal in the Olympics, when he was given the mike he spoke for nearly 30 seconds with great confidence. No one understood what he said but we could make out through his actions,” said Umesh.

At home Atish wakes up at 7 in the morning, sweeps the floor and dusts the furniture, which is his every day task. He goes to school and at around 5 at dusk, he practices swimming for an hour.

Achievements: He has won 11 National medals (7 Gold, 2 bronze and 2 silver)

Favorites:
Food:
Mutton, chicken
Other sports: Skating

Rajesh Gajanan Shinde (affected with polio in one of his legs)
In 1993, he had first learnt how to swim, he then discontinued for a year but destiny had some grand plans for him due to which he was picked by Umesh (coach) again. The boy, who swam into the pond behind the Kapileshwar Mandir near his house every weekend, was unaware that one day he would be battling the freezing cold (temp 12 degree Celsius) in the English Channel to raise Indian flag in France. On 27th July 2008 he attempted and successfully crossed English Channel from England to France (38 km), and he remains the first Physically Handicapped Swimmer in South India to cross the English Channel.

“Due to visa problems I couldn’t go two months before for the practice; which is often advised so that we get used to the climate as the water is freezing cold. Unfortunately, I reached six days before the event and we met a lady there who was from India. She intimidated me saying that, “how can you now get accustomed to this climate just before 6 days, my students are practicing from two months and are still not prepared. It’s impossible.” But I knew only one thing that I wanted to see Indian flag there.” said Rajesh.

After 31/2 hours of practice, Rajesh plunged into the English Channel at 5:44 am and at around 8:00 pm raised his hand to his coach signing victory. He had managed to raise the Indian flag on the France border. “That was one of the best moments. The lady who had come with her boys had gone back only attempting,” quipped Rajesh.

Rajesh has completed B com degree from RPD. Presently he is working in the Sports department of VTU Belgaum.

Favorites
Food:
non-veg
Other Sport: cricket
Achievements: 11 International medals (4 Gold, 5 silver and 2 bronze.  At the National level he has won total of 32 medals.

Message to the Govt.
“Haryana govt. has awarded Rs 5 lac for International sport winners, why don’t Karnataka govt. recognize our hard work? They can at least sponsor our training expenditures; we deserve this since we have brought medals for the country,” complains Rajesh.

Raghavendra Ratnakar Anvekar (polio affected in both legs right from his birth)
He had come to learn swimming at the Rotary Corporation Swimming Pool with his four friends in the year 2000 and learnt swimming in only 6 hours. “My mother used to carry me to school, one day a lady on the way noticed this and helped me get a bicycle for rent. We had migrated from Hubli, and were new to Belgaum but after some days I felt, “Belgaum is also a big city” since I started going to school on my own,” said Ragahvendra.

After that, the world got bigger when he began representing Karnataka at National level, and India at International level. He was the first disabled child who was trained under Umesh. His first winning experience happened at Gwalior in 2002 where he won 4 Gold medals in the 3rd National Paralympics Swimming Championship for Disabled. “I was in school when Umesh sir came and asked me to pack my bag and medical certificates, I didn’t know a thing. I was asked to register at the last moment, and they agreed. That day I won 4 gold medals, my first victory!” smiles Raghavendra. He has recently bagged the bronze medal at the first Asian Para Games 2010 in China on 19th dec 2010.

Presently, he is working for an NGO called Purple Nest based in Bangalore as an event organizer.

Achievements: 19 medals at the International level (2 gold, 8 silver, 9
bronze)
has won a total 32 National Gold medals
was honored with Eklavya award on 29th august 2010
He has also attempted to swim in the English channel

Favorites
Food:
South Indian
other interests: tri-cycling and water pool

Message to the Govt.
“Karnataka govt. has failed to recognize our achievements. They should at least give us a govt. job. Nevertheless, Karnataka Swimming Association has supported us.”

Moin M Junnedi
He is famously called the ‘wonderboy of India’ who has 100 fractures in the body. Look at him, and there comes a prompt ‘hi’, such is the gusto of this 13-year-old boy. Even though he is a born handicap he has been able to battle the physical and mental challenges of life and has never lost hope. Moin has not received any formal education as he was denied admission in schools. Moin, son of Musthaq Junaidi and Kousar Banu, has a rare disease that causes zero-bone calcium. It is called Osteogenesis Imperfecta in medical terms; the disease has made Moin’s bones so soft that the gentlest pat would cause fractures.

When doctors failed to find a cure for his disease, his mother started tutoring him in the house. And today, he fluently speaks in English and aims to become a Software Engineer in the future.  He even knows to speak Arabic and can easily operate a computer, which is his passion. “I don’t feel bad for not going to school. I watch TV, play games on my laptop,” said the aquatic star.

In 2009 the Karanataka CM had visited the corporation swimming pool to inaugurate a swimming contest. On this occasion Moin’s mother waited for hours in the traffic which was jammed due to CM’s visit, only to meet him. The waiting went in vain when she and Moin reached the pool after the CM had left but they entered to see the contest. And then, they met Umesh who asked Moin’s mother to send him for swimming. “I had come to discuss about Moin’s education with the CM since he is suffering with a rare disease, I thought govt. would help us but destiny had some other plans,” smiled the mother. And that is how Moin brought Gold medal in the National Paralympics Swimming Competition on October 2008 in the 50 meter freestyle event.

Favorites:
other interests:
carom, cricket, singing and drawing
Food: chicken

Achievements: Participated at the 10th National Paralympic Swimming Championship for the disabled held in Kolkata, won two gold medals. He added one more gold medal to his medals tally recently after winning a competition held at Bellary. Moin has been honored with Sagar Prashasti Award, Indradhanushya Sanman Award, Belgaum District Award and B.R Mutagi Award.

Jotiba Parashram Kundekar
“I am called the ‘King of Yellur’ today in my village,” laughs Jotiba Parashram Kundekar who hails from a small village nearby Belgaum called Yellur. His participation in the Zonal level swimming competition brought him in contact with Umesh who was then training most of the handicap swimmers in Belgaum. The very next day he visited Jotiba’s school and enrolled him into the training after convincing his parents. Jotiba is right now perusing his B.com undergraduate course at Rani Parvati Devi College (rpd).

“I am so happy to be here today. I feel the best moment so far would be when Rakesh and Raghavendra were preparing to participate in the English Channel. I swam with them from mid night to 6 in the morning,” said Jotiba.

Favorites:
Food: chicken and mutton
Other interests: music

Achievements: 20 National medals (11 Gold, 7 silver, 2 bronze).

Umesh Khade (deaf and dumb)
He was born in Hukkeri and learnt to swim in the pond near his house, and joined the swimmers club in Belgaum to develop his skills. His parents are agriculturists who work very hard to earn their living, and when his mother noticed his talent in swimming she called Umesh(coach) for help. He asked her to send her son in the next bus, and that is when Umesh’s career in swimming began. To earn his living he started working at the pool as lifeguard and simultaneously practiced to attend swimming contests in his free hours.

Favorites:
Food:
fish fry

Achievements: 17 National medals (2 Gold, 7 silver, 8 bronze).

Umesh Kalghatgi (coach) 
Ask them how they became swimmers, and they all name their hero Mr Umesh Kalghatgi who is their coach. He himself was a very successful swimmer but he chose to render social service. Eventually he started teaching swimming to handicapped children, and was fascinated on seeing their fast-learning skills. “Raghavendra was floating on the water on the sixth day, and then I asked him to float in the deep area for 1 min he also finished that task flawlessly,” said Umesh.

In 2001, February he started swimming classes for the disabled children and the orphans, and today they successfully complete 10 years of this camp. “I wanted every disabled child to learn to swim despite their abnormality. These children are special, they are clever and quick-learners. My dream is to see these children happy, to come out and see the world, play in the water and enjoy life like us,” added Umesh. By the end of the camp he had taught swimming to 160 disabled children and orphans who had come from the Association of the physically handicapped. All these budding swimmers were provided with free transport, diet kit, health check up and training. “God sent the people. The resources were provided by the people in Belgaum. There was never a dearth for money. People like Suresh Hundre (Polyhydron Pvt Ltd company Chairman have helped us whenever there was a need for money. You will be surprised but we have also had young fans who have donated their pocket money, women and men have donated their salary,” informs Umesh.

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