Image Credits: Jayaveena
It’s June, 2012, and inside the SDAT complex, Chennai, everyone is standing. Everyone. Coaches, swimmers, parents, spectators. The sense in the building at the 39th Junior National Aquatics Championship meet is remarkable – something historic is about to happen.
“I badly wanted to win the individual National Championship. But in order to win that, I had to win the five gold medals in the part. I was sharing the points with Aakansha Vora, swimmer from Maharashtra,” recounts swimmer Jayaveena in an Exclusive Interview Fisto Sports.
On the last day of the event, she had two gold medal events, in addition to, she had back-to-back races – 200m Breaststroke and 100m Freestyle.
And Jayaveena didn’t disappoint.
After a heavy silence and the swimmers launch themselves from the blocks. The whistle has blown for the 100m freestlye final. Jayaveena didn’t got off to the best start, in fact, in the first 50m until 70m she was 5th, but out of nowhere, she flew out of the blocks – squeezing and strolled everyone away – and by the time when she touches the wall, she finished first with a record time.
“That’s one of the races that still gives me Goosebumps,” said the elated Jayaveena.
Three of her gold medals in the same event were national records that brought her into the limelight as one of the country’s most promising prospects.
The 20-year-old swimmer has come a long way since then.
Cut to 8 years later.
Jayaveena clinched a silver medal in the 50m Breaststroke category at the 13th South Asian Games which was held in Nepal in 2019, marking a strong comeback – an achievement she is most proud of.
She said: “The last time when the tournament was held in 2016, I was studying in 12th standard and was preparing for both swimming and board exams. I was in a dilemma whether I should write the exams or go for the tournament. In the end, I chose exams, because I didn’t want to take a break in my studies, after that I had a chance to race in couple of international events again, but it wasn’t as good as South Asian Games.”
“Winning the silver medal in the South Asian Games and the entire experience has taught me a lot, because I got a chance to travel with senior swimmers like Virdhawal Khade, Richa Mishra and Rucheeta Bhatt and has definitely motivated me to work harder than ever before and has given me a lot of self-confidence. It’s one of the important competitions in my career thus far.”
‘Never stop learning’
And looking back the formative years to where she is now, the biggest difference Jayaveena see herself as a swimmer is that she never stopped learning, never stopped bettering herself, and kept improving each time, that only made her better and better.
She has matured greatly as a swimmer. She also carries herself with confidence and exudes a compelling charm that inspires devotion in others.
“When I was a kid, I would have been less mature and I wouldn’t have known how to balance things when it comes to winning and losing. I would turn teary-eyed in shame when I lose, but over the years, I have started learning things by observing others and how they handle the situation and everything. I have learned one thing which is very close to my heart is never stop learning,” she said.
Swimming starts at a young age and progresses naturally
Despite being a daughter of a popular actor Thalaivasal Vijay, she never dreamt of making it big in the tinseltown, rather she made her name with splash in pool – with her determination, achievements and constant struggle to promote the sport of swimming.
Swimming is not a common sport in India, even less so for girls, who must challenge social norms to practice it. This did not prevent Jayaveena from becoming one, let alone being one of the best in the state.
Looking back, Jayaveena recalls learning to swim and starting off swimming classes at the age of 8 though she had been exposed to water as toddler as 3 years when she enjoyed playing in the water.
Her father, Thalaivasal Vijay, was a national level gymnast during his heydays. His gymnastic career was cut short due to injury, but he always had a liking towards sports and wanted his daughter to be able to experience the sport as he did. In addition, her elder brother is also an international swimmer medallist.
“My dad joined myself and my brother in three different sports – swimming, cricket and skating,” Jayaveena recollects.
“I used to go swimming with my brother. I think I was 2-and-half-years-old at that time. I always got the excitement after seeing the water. I loved the water when I was young. Then I troubled the coaches over there, saying that I want to jump inside the water.
The coaches called up my dad and in return my dad said ‘Okay, just push her inside the water for once. She will drink water, will never come near the water and never trouble you.”
To their surprise, when the coaches pushed her inside the water, she started enjoying and playing mirthfully. And that’s when the coaches and the lifeguard realised that she has something inside her –perhaps natural-born skill – that she can actually swim.
“From that point on I dedicated myself to swimming. I knew that was the sport for me, but the professional swimming started was at the age of eight when I joined Turtles Swim School in Chennai. I started training under Mr. B. Girish, who is my coach till date.”
“Initially, it was all in fun and I just enjoyed being in the swimming pool. Obviously, there’s a huge learning curve, it’s not like I was a great swimmer right away, I just loved swimming and I love improving. I love the feeling of floating on the water and feeling almost weightless. I find that whenever I leave the pool I feel totally relaxed.”
Moral support and trust paves the way to success
For Jayaveena, her greatest mentor and support has been his father, who right from taking her for her first swimming lessons, has been behind her every step of the way. He has made unsurpassed sacrifices ensuring that Jayaveena always got the support she needed.
“My parents played pivotal roles in my decision to be a swimmer. Solely because of my dad’s decision – I’m in this sport. I think my dad’s contribution is very huge. Being around his practical creativity shaped my approach to sports and life.”
"He always supported me and has sacrificed a lot for me. He never misses any of my national and international events."
"My mother too has played and is still playing a huge role in my life. She has definitely sacrificed a lot for me and my brother, she has fought too much for the whole family and her support and love is priceless."
Jayaveena feels that swimming is one of the essential skills like cooking and driving.
“When I started swimming, my dad’s friends and relatives expressed concern by saying why do you want to put your daughter into swimming. She might become masculine, might look manly. She has to wear costume which is being exposed and all the stuff. Those were the some of the difficulties I have faced and overcome in order to be where I am today.”
She further added that what today’s parents today fail to realize is that children need and expect moral support from parents and not to set undue expectation on them.
“You have to focus lot beyond that, not only about the costume, becoming manly. Sport is much more than that.”
But in her case, she has unsurpassed support from her parents.
She says there are many proud moments she's had with her father, but one in particular stands out to her.
“The 2011 National Games which happened in Ranchi was my turning point. It was the very first event where I was exposed to see senior swimmers, I was so excited and proud that I won six medals over there and my dad was there with me; he supported me a lot”
I would say my inspiration because one thing I have always admired about him, he always says ‘give 100% in whatever you do.”
He’s an actor when he goes for shoot; he never thinks about home and when he comes back to home, he never thinks about the shoot. In that way, one can manage things and multitasking. That’s one thing I have applied in my life as well. I am so lucky to be able to have such an incredible pillar of unwavering support to call my dad.”
‘I owe a big part of my success to my coach’
She also emphasizes that parents need to trust the coach and the coach will know what’s best for the swimmer. Just as the backbone protects the body’s vitals and helps in making the body stand upright, the coach ‘has the back’ of the swimmer while helping him/her attain their potential.
“I was lucky to have B.Girish as my coach. His experience was so important to help guide me along. We had a strong relationship: trusted each other 100 per cent. He knows me in and out. He analyse me completely. He taught me that once you believe in something, you stick by it. If it’s not working, you don’t rip it up and start again. You find ways to make it better.”
I owe a lot of my success to Girish sir, I am grateful to have him in my corner, with his game plans, advice, and teachings I know we can achieve great things. Having someone like him beside you is crucial.”
One race at time
Jayaveena was quickly making a name for herself in the youth ranks which earned her the title of the youngest swimmer to win a medal at the National Games, a feat that she achieved at Ranchi Nationals in 2011.
At the time, she was a not much of a planner and took one Meet and one race at time, looking to do her best at each Meet and move on to the next level. The medals proved enough motivation to propel Jayaveena to higher goals.
Winning was the means to an end, the end which promised a better future for Jayaveena, and her constant commitment in training meant that she has very little time for the usual thrills of growing up.
She listed the "backstroke" as her personal favorite stroke and expressed her love for the butterfly race as well, when asked:
“Is there anything about your swimming life you would have changed or done differently?”
Maybe I would have tried being a butterflier instead of breaststroker as butterfly demands nuances of certain style and fanciness.
"but backstroke is also a beautiful stroke. I enjoy it," she said.
On idols and biggest inspirations
When asked which swimmer’s journey she find most inspiring, she replies, “Not one, there are two swimmers.”
“One is an Indian and another is outside of India. Outside the India, obviously everyone knows what Michael Phelps went through in his life. Not only is she a distinguished swimmer, but also an inspiration to many worldwide.
“His remarkable comeback in Rio Olympics is one of my favorite stories ever. Just being able to step on the mound and have another shot was a miracle in itself. His passion, integrity, and perseverance in the face of hardship has been unrivalled. He is and always will be a true inspiration to me and to many others.”
And when it comes to Indian swimmer, “I have always admired swimmer Richa Mishra. I really look up to her because she is 35-years-old and still competing and still no.1 in whatever events she picks. She trains alone, with her sister being her coach. Sometimes in life when I feel rock bottom or unmotivated, I just think of her journey and take inspiration and thread my way through.”
Pride and ultimate competitor
Jayaveena says she takes pride in being a swimmer and pointed out that the demand for the sport is quite hard, feel you’re healthier, safer and away from all the health problems. Swimming is known as mother of sports; it involves almost all the parts of your body. As I said earlier, swimming should be considered as one of the essential skills like cooking and driving.
When asked to name one of the swimmers who she considers as her ultimate competitor, Jayaveena said, “Chahat Arora from Chandigarh. We both are in the same page but that day has to decide who’s the best. If I win and she comes second, the difference would be like tens of milliseconds and vice-versa. She’s one of the toughest competitors I have had till now.”
“What keeps me going is goals and dreams’
Swimming is an individual sport. Even though there are swim teams and relays, at the end of the day you are swimming in one lane and it is your body and movement that results in success or failure in the competition. Each day, Jayaveena is motivated by the fact that she hasn't reached the pinnacle of her goals and dreams. " The way I set my goals and dreams are very practical; I don’t set unrealistic goals. I have a lot more that I haven't' achieved," she said.
“There are two extremes in swimming – it can be the funniest sport or it can be most boring sport – because the training part of swimming is really boring as it’s just you and the water and repeating the same flow for hours,” she admitted.
“One can get easily bored. But during that time, one thing which kept me motivating was my goals and dreams.”
“When it comes to setting up goals and dreams. First thing I always think of is the immediate goals and short-term goals. And second thing is, when I dream, it’s completely different, I visualize my dream and I try to cover every aspect of it – nuances and its components – like how would I feel while I training; during the race what would I feel; after the race what would I come and talk to my coach. Each and every part of my competition is I keep visualizing that kind of gives me happiness and excitement. That’s what kept me going till now.”
Women sports and progression
On being asked, do you feel like there is enough recognition for women in sport or do you think that more needs to be highlighted by the media etc?
I think women are getting more recognition, but it's still hard to try to get the same sort of accolade that men get. There are some incredible women athletes like Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal, Deepika Pallikal, Mary Kom and PV Sindu and it’s great to get a feel of more of what women have done to the Indian sport. Even if they are a step ahead of us, there are number of factors ensure that they are two step behind us like society – society need to start respecting what women likes and dislikes –supporting them. I feel it’s 50-50, half of the population, are recognising women in sports and the other half still feel that women are not made for sports”
Adding, “but the scenario are changing now. The progression is huge and it can only go further. When I started swimming, I did not have any feminine role model, I did not know that I could be a professional swimmer. Now we see thousands of girls choosing their own sports, we read about their achievements in the newspapers and magazines. The conditions are better, more and more professionals. More and more people will be interested in sports and soon it will be able to live on what it generate.”
The best is yet to come…
When asked about her personal goals for the upcoming season, Jayaveena stated, “My ultimate goal is to compete in the Olympics, but right now my immediate goal is to perform well at the nationals. Unfortunately, because of Corona virus pandemic I don’t think that happening anytime soon now.”
She also says that one of the important aspects of a becoming a champion is the ability to push yourself over the wall.
“It has been a whirlwind journey so far and I have loved every bit of it, but I still have same determination. I want to drop my time and push myself as far I can go. I’m doing it because I love it and it’s more enjoyable when you do get the rewards as well.”
Would you love to be an underdog or elite swimmer in your opinion?
Think, it’s depends on the competition, as you know I’m not a revealing person and I lean towards underdogs category but if the situation demands me to be an elite swimmer, I will definitely act like one.
Which celebrity would you go swimming with?
Serena Williams. I have always admired her and her work ethics. She’s too strong for a woman. It’s fascinating watching her all these years.
If you could choose a song that would most represent your life journey, what song would it be?
"Hall of Fame" by The Script. It’s one of my favorite song and the line:
“How are you ever gonna know if you never even try? Do it for your country? Do it for your name 'Cause there's gonna be a day...”
It's the song that keeps me going when I'm down and gives me resiliency.
Do you have any pre-swim superstitions?
Yes, I do have some five to six superstitious beliefs that I do before my event. One of my main superstitions is not to reveal it because I feel that the power goes down. But one of the things that I do is I listen to ‘Hall of Fame’ song before every event.
What's the craziest thing you've ever done in a swimming pool?
There are a lot of things but one of the things that I enjoy doing is that during the kick sets, I use my kickboard to push inside the water. I sit on top of it and then I come out of the kickboard flying which I find very funny and crazy.
Who is your favorite actor: Suriya
If you could eat one thing forever what would it be?
I’m basically a foodie, but I can’t pick one particular food, may be a restaurant in Chennai. It’s Chap Chay – as Asian cuisine restaurant in RA Puram, where you can get to pick your own ingredients from the chefs. That one restaurant I always like to go. I am person who will not try new things, if I likes something, I keep eating constantly until I hate it, but that one resultant I still not hated until now.
What are the top 3 things on your bucket list of things that you would like to do in your lifetime?
Skydiving and bungee jumping.
Would you like to have swim along with Michael Phelps and what would have been your tactics to beat him?
He is a legend. He’s a god to all the swimmers, so we can’t imagine beating him, let alone myself. But if I had to pick one tactics – I’d go for may be, (very little hope of) may be somewhere closer to him is that, I feel that I’m quite strong in underwater. May be that would be my best bet of beating the greatest swimmer of all time.