Image Credits: @MaanaPatel
A backstroking phenom, Ahmedabad’s Maana Patel has been wreaking havoc on the Indian Swimming age record boards, overwriting some stellar names in the process.
Maana Patel sits atop as the fastest Indian backstroker across all age groups and she is the first Indian swimmer to win all 3 backstroke events with record time. She achieved this feat at a young age of 13 years at the Senior National Open Championships in Trivandrum, 2013.
Maana Patel was introduced to swimming at a young age as an alternate therapy to stimulate her appetitive. Little did they know that their daughter would go on to become one of the most promising swimmers in the country.
After years of steady progression and learning the tricks and trade of the sport, Maana Patel then tasted early success in 2011 when she won her first national medal, after which there was no looking back.
Declaring herself an ardent fan of Michael Phelps, the SMPIC University student has worked her way back to the top and is now only getting better and better.
She says swimming makes her feel free. When she is in the pool, she feels detached from the world.
The 20-yer-old has come a long way and has a long journey yet to go. Though now she is established herself as one of the most talented young swimmers in the country, her steady rise does not end here, it will be interesting to see how she develops over the next few years, as you always want to see talent flourish.
How do you think you have developed from a swimmer’s perspective since your formative year?
This is my 10th year in competitive swimming and I must say it has been an amazing journey so far. Slightly bumpy but a memorable one. Over the years, I have definitely become a fitter version of myself both physically and mentally. My swimming career has also helped me evolve as a person.
By whom are you inspired a lot?
Swami Vivekanand and his preachings are truly motivating and inspiring. All the quotes by him on self-belief and accomplishing one’s goal are some that I always keep in my mind.
What's the craziest thing you have ever done in a swimming pool?
To be frankly, none. I have only trained and raced so far.
Describe a situation where you had to make a quick decision in a race and what did you learn from that experience?
At the 10th Asian Aquatic Championships, 2016, during my 50m freestyle race, I was standing behind the blocks and as soon as I pulled my goggles down and get ready to dive in, they snapped. I got a little nervous and I was shivering on the blocks. I knew that the situation was not in my control and there was nothing that I could do about my broken goggles. I decided to be strong in my head and believe in the training that I had done. I told myself I am ready and I can do it with or without goggles as it was just a 50m race. Somehow, I clocked a decent time of 27.23 seconds.
One thing that I learnt was to be calm and composed when a mishap happens because that’s when you can come up with a solution and make the situation better and give good results. This applies to every sport as well as other aspects of life.
Let’s go back in time. Can you share with us how you got started with swimming? How old were you, who introduced you to the sport, and what is it about swimming that resonated with you?
Nobody from my family thought or planned that I would be a swimmer. Growing up, my appetite was very poor. To solve this issue, my mom enrolled me in a summer swim batch in 2008. Luckily, that hack worked perfectly. I started eating well and enjoyed swimming too.
In 2010, I decided to take swimming seriously and train for the state and national meets. In 2011, I got my first national medal and from then there is no looking back.
Swimming makes me feel free. When I am in the pool, I can hear nothing but the sound of the water and I find it very calming. It feels as If I have detached myself from the world. I see and hear only the water. One thing which fascinates me about swimming as a sport is that for me it is paradise when I am in the pool, relaxing as a leisure activity, but the same pool turns into a battlefield when I am racing. So many emotions at a time.
There are lots of rivalries in swimming, do you have one?
Swimming is an individual sport, so, to be very frank, I feel the only rival that I have is, myself. It is a sport where you cannot control other swimmers’ race and others can control yours. Hence, I try to focus on my race and my time in every competition.
If you feel low after a race, how do you deal with the downtime and what keeps you sharp?
After a bad race, I sulk. I can’t control my emotions and so I end up crying and I sulk for the longest. But if I have more races ahead of me, I try to forget the bad ones by distracting myself and trying to channelize all the aggression that I want to let out in my next race.
Also, I watch recordings of my old and good races to being back that belief and confidence in me. I have my mom with me most of the times so she and my coach try to pep my mood. We talk about what went wrong in the race once and then forget about it and then we speak about any random thing to make the atmosphere a little lighter and happier.
Would you like to have swim along with Michael Phelps and what would have been your tactics to beat him?
Swimming alongside my idol would be ecstatic! I was lucky enough to meet him in 2019 where I got a chance to converse with him. I was so elated to talk to him. When I shook hands with him, I was numb and awestruck with eyes wide open and jaw drop.
To be honest, If I got a chance to swim or race with him, I would feel the same again. I would be numb and overwhelmed just by looking at him. I guess I wouldn’t think of a tactic to beat him in the pool. I would simply gaze at him swim and watch his strokes!
If you could meet any 5 famous people, who would you choose and why would you choose them?
I would love to meet David Goggins. He is a retired US Navy Seal Officer and an Air Force tactical control. He is an ultra-marathon runner and he considers himself as the toughest and strongest man on this planet and which I feel is true after reading his story. His mental toughness inspires me to push myself to the limits in everything that I do. His approach towards coping up during challenging times is very convincing and it certainly proves that nothing is impossible. I wish to have such a mindset to achieve my goals.
The other person I would like to meet is Conor McGregor. He is a MMA champion in two weight categories and someone to lift the UFC championships. He is very extremely confident about himself and his talent which makes him supreme. Looking at him makes me want to believe in myself and my capabilities to achieve my goal!
Next, I would want to meet Sadhguru once in my life. I am very much inclined towards spirituality. I follow him and I take his preaching’s very seriously. His perspective towards life and other matters is very practical and real and it makes so much sense to me. If there is any problem that I face be it emotionally, mentally or spiritually I just watch his lectures addressing those issues and I start feeling better soon.
And next, I would want to meet Ratan Tata. I admire the business empire he has set up and also the social work that he does. He has only worked with ethics and transparency. despite being such a rich and famous personality, he has always been humble. This quality of his makes me want to be grounded in life no matter what. I love social work I love helping people as much as I can. Ratan Tata has given back so much to the society by aiding them through his charitable trusts.
Last but not least I want to meet Rakesh Maria. He is a retired IPS officer. All the cases that he has solved throughout his tenure with the Indian police are very daunting. I have immense respect for him because he is looked after the country and the people so well. I wish to meet him once to talk about how he kept calm and how he took decisions during such challenging times. It is a trait that not everyone possesses and I would like to learn that from him.
What are your favourite and least favourite training sessions?
I highly detest short rest sets, although, I know how important they are for me but I still don’t like it. And my most favourite training sessions include 50m and 100m sprints sets and some underwater sets.
Is there any advantage with the lane position? What’s your favourite lane?
I think this depends on a swimmer to swimmer and what they think is good for them. But I do believe that the outermost lanes which are next to the wall pose a disadvantage in terms of sending back more waves when the swimmer is racing and also you can’t see the rest of the pack if you need to. I prefer any of the 3, 4, 5, 6 lanes.
When I am racing in India, I like to be in lane 4 for all my backstroke events. Because for me, it is a matter of pride to secure that lane for every backstroke race. For other races, I don’t mind 3, 5 and 6 so that I am not in the centre of attention.
Which swimmer’s journey do you find most inspiring?
Micheal Phelps. The greatest swimmer of all time. From winning his first Olympic medal at 15 and some more, later on, to make it 23 Olympic golds to retiring and making a splendid come back in 2016 Olympics is just beyond extraordinary!
What do you think your best performance has been so far?
In 2013, I had my 100m backstroke on the first day. I was still a rookie and I wasn’t technically sound with swimming training. All I knew was some basics training and fast racing. I did that and as a 13-year-old, I emerged as a fastest and youngest ever Indian swimmer (female) in 50m 100m & 200m back. I had revived a standing ovation from the very overwhelming crowd.
The second most memorable race for me was at 8th Asian Age Aquatic Championships in 2015. I had clocked 29.30 in 50m backstroke and won a gold for India beating Chinese, Japanese and Kazakhs which was like a dream come true at the point.
What is your goal for 2020 and your overall career goal?
The entire year of 2020 has gone wasted due to the pandemic but I still want to stay focused and work on myself during this time off. My goal for 2020 to work on mental strength and be motivated enough to start the work as soon as I get a chance.
As for the overall career goal, I wish to represent my country at the Olympics at least once before I retire. And after I hang my suit, I would love to pursue higher studies. I do have a dream to have open a shelter for all recused and abandoned animals. Being an animal lover, I want to have this shelter one day when I have lots of money and time to build one. Abandoned racehorses, dogs, cats, wounded stray animals etc all together under one roof for their better life!
Choose one – swimming or sleeping? Sleeping. I can sleep anywhere at any time.
Long-stroke or slow stroke?
Long stoke! Backstroke forver!
Which celebrity would you go swimming with?
Ian Somerhalder. Has been my teen crush!
What is something that a ton of people are obsessed with but you don’t get the point of?
I am not sure of obsession but a lot of people are addicted to drinking and smoking. I genuinely don’t understand why do people knowingly contaminate their body with such substances even when they are aware of the fact that it is harmful.
Best compliment you have received
Apart from being a good athlete, people say that I have features of a model and that I should give it a shot.