I felt like a fish out of water: Sajan Prakash recalls lockdown struggles

Sajan Prakash
Sajan Prakash during a training session.

For sportspersons at every level, COVID-19 has disrupted their routines and training for months, undermining a major pillar of their identity. For many it's been a constant state of living on the edge while for others it's been a learning experience.

Keralite ace swimmer Sajan Prakash had travelled to Thailand in February 2020 to train to achieve the ‘A’ qualification mark for the Olympics, but the pandemic-induced lockdown poured cold water on all his plans as he was forced to stay put at a hostel room in Phuket for about six months. 

"I had never kept myself away from the pool for more than two weeks ever since I learned to swim at the age of 9. But last year I spent about six months in a hotel room in Thailand after being stranded at our training base in Phuket. The pool was closed and there was no training. The situation was hard to cope with," said the 27-year-old who was the only male swimmer from the country to qualify for the Rio Olympics. 

"I went to Phuket in the second week of February to resume training with Spanish coach Miguel Lopez at the FINA aquatic centre. But the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic saw a lockdown being enforced in Phuket. I was among the 17 trainees who got stranded. 

Someone who used to spend at least four hours in the pool daily, I was like a fish out of water. Life in such a restricted space without any physical activity led to weight gain as well. After a rigorous training session, I used to instantly fall asleep every night as soon as I hit the bed. But I really struggled to sleep in that hostel room. 

To make matters worse, my shoulder injury got aggravated as I was not in a position to avail the service of a physiotherapist. Negative thoughts started to kill my confidence. I thought my career was finished, and I will not be able to realise my ultimate dream of winning an Olympic medal. I was slowly coming back to my peak fitness after recovering from a neck injury following the Asian Age Group Championships in 2019. I was looking forward to the training stint in Thailand before the Olympic qualifiers when the lockdown took place. 

Yoga to the rescue

I was feeling down and depressed. It was then I started to do yoga which helped me immensely in overcoming stress and anxiety. I also did workouts within the confines of the hostel room to keep myself fit. By making yoga a regular part of my routine I could shed some weight and keep the mind calm. I also pursued some online certificate courses in sports science during that period. 

Starting from scratch

As I could not resume training in Thailand, I travelled to Dubai in August and joined the Aqua Nation Sports Academy (ANSA) there. I was happy to rejoin coach Pradeep S Kumar as I was  in desperate need of some motivation. I could also meet my mother in Dubai. We were seeing each other after two years. I resumed my personalised training regimen on August 25, 2020, a day that I will never forget. I was returning to the pool after six long months. When I jumped into the water I felt rigid and heavy. I thought I had reached a dead end and had to start again from the beginning. 

Olympic dream

I have been constantly improving my timing. I'm optimistic about breaching the 'A' standard Olympics mark. I could win a gold and a bronze at the Latvian Open in February and four gold at the Uzbekistan Open Championship in April. These achievements have done a world of good to my confidence. My performance has been steadily improving and I hope to peak at the right time and realise my Olympic dream."

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