Four swimmers share how they overcame medical hurdles for the love of water

more-in People tell us how they took the plunge, despite physical challenges such as diabetes, disability, and cardiac surgery

‘I am alive because I swim’

“Your lifespan will be one year after the surgery,” national paralympic swimmer Madhavi Latha, recalls her orthopaedic surgeon as having said. Diagnosed with polio at seven months, Madhavi consulted many doctors over the course of her life. But this particular appointment in 2007 was the gravest. Over the years, the paraplegic 49-year-old’s spine was compressed and only one of her lungs was functioning. Unwilling to give up, Madhavi consulted a physiotherapist who initiated her into hydrotherapy. And so began her tryst with water.

“From my childhood I loved the idea of swimming. Whenever my family would go to a temple, I would sit at the pond, and dip my legs in,” she says. The first time she entered a pool, the water’s buoyancy helped her move previously unused leg muscles.

She would exercise in the children’s pool at Chennai’s Andhra Club. “I shifted to the pool for adults, and using a float, I would do some basic freestyle swimming.” The instructor, impressed by her determination, taught her the strokes. Soon enough, Madhavi passed on her training to others, and formed an association for Tamil Nadu’s paralympic swimmers, going on to compete at a national level. Even today, Madhavi never misses her daily swim. “I discover new ways to move my body every time I go inside water. I am alive because I swim.” ‘It is our family fitness activity’

Dr Rina Tajme, a diabetologist at SIMS Hospital, Chennai, talks of how her 68-year-old father-in-law, Chandraban Tajme is now off diabetes meds. He swims daily, while her 62-year-old mother-in-law, Shalini Tajme, who has a cardiac problem, also practises hydrotherapy. “Swimming is recommended as an exercise for people with diabetes. It increases insulin secretion in the body, and brings glucose levels under control,” says Dr Tajme.

Chandraban teaches his granddaughter and grandson, aged nine and four, swimming every weekend. He himself learnt as a child, and says it reduces his back pain. Shalini, who has mitral stenosis, had an artificial valve put in 11 years ago, and will be getting that valve replaced in a few months again. “My mother-in-law is a regular at the pool. She jogs inside the water; the buoyancy puts less pressure in her knees,” she says.

“Swimming is one of the forms of cardio exercise that not only helps in keeping one’s joints and muscles strong, but also assists in losing weight. However, people with heart disease have to be a little more careful and make sure that they consult a doctor before undertaking any kind of physical exercise… especially after undergoing heart surgery,” says Dr Ganeshakrishnan Iyer, chief consultant, Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery, Aster CMI Hospital, Bengaluru. “Adults with valvular heart disease or coronary artery disease will have to make sure that they are in a fit condition. Their heart has to work much harder in the water as blood circulation increases.” ‘I controlled my Type 2 diabetes’

One day before his birthday in 2016, Bengaluru-based Aditya Mendonca discovered he had Type 2 diabetes. The 28-year-old started swimming soon after, not as a way to control his diabetes, but because his friend fell into a lake, and he had to jump in to rescue him. “I realised that swimming is a basic life skill,” he says. A year after he started swimming at the city’s club pools, he was hooked. He started training at the Kensington pool under Olympic swimmer Nisha Millet. “Swimming helped bring down my extremely high sugar levels,” he says, adding that he began participating in swimathons and triathlons. “When I first started competitive swimming, there were special challenges as a person with Type 2. It is hard to maintain the perfect sugar ratio,” he says. With a strict diet, exercising with friends and following other athletes on social media, he overcame these challenges. He finished his first 2km open-water swim at the Goa Swimathon and now has his eye on a Half Ironman. ‘It keeps my mind sharp’

Hyderabad-based Chetan Malik is a triathlete and a motivational speaker. Eight years ago though, he was diagnosed with acromegaly. He discovered that the reason for his aching joints, swollen feet and fatigue was the condition that caused an overproduction of the growth hormone and a distortion in skeletal features.

In his determination not to let the condition affect his quality of life, the 40-year-old took to running, and then, in order to take part in the triathlon, he started swimming as well. Strenuous physical activity does give rise to joint and bone pain, but, “The chances of injury are less while swimming. If you are a runner, you put a lot of pressure on your joints. Swimming helps me tone my muscles and at the same time protect my joints from wear and tear. I swim twice or thrice a week,” he says.

Learning swimming as an adult came with its own set of challenges as well as benefits. Despite his body becoming stiffer as he grew older, learning a new sport helped keep his mind sharp. Moreover, he swims along with his daughter — it’s what they bond over. “When you invest in a stock market, you diversify your portfolio. Similarly, in the matter of fitness, your investments need to be a mix of swimming, functional and strength training. I am not expert, but my goal has been to manage life with the condition I have.”

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