Despite Being On A Wheelchair, This Para Swimmer Has Been Smashing World Records
Sromona Bhattacharyya Maharashtra
December 28th, 2018 / 3:27 PM
Almost eight years ago, Mohammad Shams Aalam Shaikh from Mumbai’s sprawling settlement, Dharavi, had only one goal in mind – to become a Karate champion. With over 40 medals and a black belt to boast about, Shams was well on his way to attain his goal too. However, a spinal tumour detected in 2010 got the better of him, rendering him paraplegic from the chest down.
Even though after a couple of surgeries over the next year rid Shams of his tumour, his dream of making a mark in the world of Karate came crashing down. However, that did not stop him from finding an alternative. After turning his focus to competitive swimming in 2013, Shams braved the sea and went on to win plenty of accolades, breaking limits and setting new world records.
Found joy in swimming
The Logical Indian spoke to the para-swimmer who braved several odds, only to emerge as a ray of hope for many others like him. Shams, a mechanical engineering graduate with a degree in MBA decided to quit lucrative jobs in top companies after he found his love for swimming. He said, “I was disheartened with my disability at first but soon enough, I found a way to cope up with it.”
As a part of rehabilitation and to start physiotherapy, Shams started going to the Paraplegic Foundation in Mumbai. It was there that Shams met Rajaram Ghag, a wheelchair-bound swimmer who swam the English Channel in 1988. He said, “I used to swim as a child and Rajaram Sir gave me the confidence to take on the challenge of swimming even as a paraplegic person.”
While the swimming pools in his area did not allow specially abled people to swim, Shams, upon constant persuasion, was allowed to practice in a 25-meter pool at first. Having gained the confidence in the water, he went on to conquer bigger pools. From 2012 onwards, Shams started swimming competitively and went on to win several state as well as national competitions.
His success at various levels in India helped Shams to aim higher. Although he wanted to compete internationally, lack of funds and sponsorship as well as a proper coach held him back – a problem which plagues athletes in India. To make matters worse, Shams, in order to focus more on swimming, had to quit his job, which added to his financial woes.
Making and breaking world records
Coming from a humble household, the 31-year-old had to make do with what he was given. However, that did not let down his spirit. From swimming pools, Shams diverted his focus to the behemoth called the sea. In 2013, he participated in a sea swim competition which he could not finish. Determined to compete in a swimming competition in the sea, in 2014, Shams participated in the Navy Day Open Sea Swimming Competition under the differently-abled category at Colaba in Mumbai.
To everyone’s surprise, he had swum a distance of 6 km in a span of 1 hour, 40 minutes and 28 seconds. This earned him a place in the Limca Book of Records as he was the first paraplegic person with 100% disability to do so.
In 2017, defying all odds, Shams swam 8 km in 4 hours and 4 minutes, along the Sinquerim-Baga-Candolim sea in Goa. This mammoth task incidentally helped him break the previous record he had set. He said that he has recently received a confirmation of his record from the Limca Book Of Records.
With sponsorship from his university’s director, Shams had participated and won a bronze medal at the 2016 Speedo Can-Am Para-swimming Championships in Canada. Moreover, participation, as well as constant well-performance in events, pushed Shams to bag the first spot in Asian rankings under his category (100m backstroke) at present.
In 2018, his dreams of competing at the Para Asian Games were finally realised after Shams qualified from India to participate in seven swimming events in October. He said, “I could not win a medal by a matter of mere seconds, however, I stood fourth in one of the events while I was in the top eight in all others.” This achievement is particularly laudable considering the fact that he did so without any proper guidance, training camps or even sponsorship. He said, “A coaching camp was set up in Bangalore however, I could not take part in it since it was inaccessible for me.”
Apart from earning a name for himself in the swimming world, Shams has been an advocate for the differently-abled. From holding camps to motivational speeches to urging the government to make public places more accessible, Shams is leaving no stone unturned to make life a little easier for others. He said, “With determination, anyone can achieve anything that they want, be it in sports or in the corporate circle.”
The next goal for Shams is to qualify the World Para-Swimming Championships in 2019. He said, “Qualifying for it is difficult and if I do, I will become the first paraplegic person from India to do so.” The Logical Indian applauds Shams for not only succeeding in his own life but also empowering the lives of others.
Written by : Sromona Bhattacharyya
Edited by : Poorbita Bagchi