32 km journey, fell down twice: Mohammad Shams Aalam Shaikh's rocky road to glory

The Indian para-swimmer overcame tough training stint to win two gold medals at the 20th National Para-Swimming Championship
By Samrat Chakraborty

Ace Indian para-swimmer Mohammad Shams Aalam Shaikh breathed a sigh of relief after returning to his base in New Delhi on Monday, after clinching two gold medals and a silver, at the recently concluded 20th National Para-Swimming Championship.

The medals -- a gold each in 50m butterfly and 150m medley categories along with one silver in 100m freestyle -- have a special value for Aalam as they came after a testing three months of training.

"Last few years, we had no competitions (at the national level). So I was happy that we could compete. In the last two-three months, all the effort I put in has paid off," Shams Aalam told the Olympic Channel.

"I trained at the Excelsior American School (Gurugram, Haryana). It was around 16 kilometers away from my home, had to commute for 32 kilometers every day. It was a hectic schedule. I did not have enough money to commute via cab as it would take me around INR 500 every day.

"The bus services in Gurugram were helpful as it was wheelchair accessible. I used to get down and the bus stop and commute further 3 kilometers to reach the destination. It was difficult due to the heat. I fell down twice, once after getting down from the bus then at HUDA City Center (Gurugram). But I continued to train as I thought these small things will keep happening," he added.

Paraplegic swimmer Mohammad Shams Aalam Shaikh in action

At his training base in Gurugram, the infrastructure was up to the mark, but he needed an additional ramp for convenient movement to the swimming pool. The ramp was accommodated after an e-mail from Aalam, requesting the same, and he believes it will help a lot of para-athletes train at the venue in near future.

"At the school, they did not have an idea, that there might be a requirement for a ramp or might have ever thought that someone with a wheelchair will need access to their swimming pool," the member of the Indian contingent at the 2018 Asian Para Games said.

"I wrote them an e-mail, saying that the infrastructure is good, but if they can add a ramp it will be convenient. They took it in a positive way. Next time when someone like me comes, it will also become easier for him," he added.

It was at 24, when Aalam faced a life-changing experience as he developed a benign tumour in his lower back, which immobilized his lower half. But a decade on, the para-swimmer has learned to overcome the odds.

His dream to represent the nation at the Paralympics is pushing him to scale new highs.