Berlin [Germany], June 22 (ANI): The multi-sport events are a riot of diversity, each sport, each athlete and coach is different in character and even behaviour. The energy at one arena is markedly different from the other. And among them, swimming stands tall, and perhaps notoriously apart. It’s a commonly known fact — swimming arenas are bouncing with energy, coaches, teammates and ‘swim parents’ screaming encouragement from the stands in unison as soon as the starters’ gun goes off.
What separates the swim events at the Special Olympics World Games though, is the audible universality of the cheers that follow the starters gun. There are no bellowed instructions and no single name being screamed at. Instead, in unison, the crowd rises up and cheers onward each heat, each swimmer equally. It’s a rare phenomenon — so rare in fact that it is definitely exclusive to the Schwimm- und Sprunghalle im Europasportpark (Swimming and Diving Hall in the Europasportpark) for the World Games.
This desire to see every athlete succeed, and get their time in the spotlight extends to beyond the confines of the pool though and is in many ways the epitome of the Special Olympics movement. It also is the basis of Dinesh Kumar Shanmugam’s story, who claimed the Silver medal in the 50m breaststroke Level A event at the Special Olympics World Summer Games.
The 22-year-old Dinesh has a speech impairment, a learning disability and a low IQ. As a youngster, he was prone to attention deficiency and hyperactivity. His mother, Ganesavalli, pushed him towards swimming, even regularly taking him to the pool. The parents hoped the therapeutic but demanding water training would help. He progressed through the levels, often training in areas that did not have coaches trained to work with special needs children. And yet, his results exceeded expectations.
It was at a local swimming meet that Manikandan Subramani and Lata first spotted him five years ago. Their son Gokul Srinivasan had won two medals in swimming (gold in the 1500m freestyle and silver in 800m freestyle) at the World Games in Abu Dhabi in 2019, training under Vellachari Satish in Chennai.
Satish is the head swimming coach at the Brio Sports Academy for Special Needs in the city. Manikandan and Lata asked him if he would take Dinesh under his wing, introduced them, and the parents to kick off the relationship.
“Often this is how things work within the community,” Satish says. “Parents will always keep an eye out for other special needs athletes and then guide them towards better training facilities, coaches etc. It’s one of the ways that a training centre like mine survives. Just word of mouth and community support.”
It was precisely that kind of support that helped Dinesh speed to the finish line in the 50m breast finals where he won silver. A BSC Visual Communication student at Jain College, Chennai, Dinesh is in his final year and hopes to continue swimming through his life.
“When he came he was impatient, and would get angry and lash out at other athletes if he felt like things were not going well for him,” Satish says. “We started using swimming as a motivating tool, as well as a therapeutic tool. We would push him by giving him times to break, laps to improve, and he channelled his anger and focus there. He’s super dedicated, and that’s really what separated him from everyone else.”
“Why do I swim and not play some other sport? Because I’m good at it?” he smiles, pausing, before adding “I like because it’s me, water and finish line.” The most succinctly conveyed reason there could be.
“He likes the applause too,” Satish says. “I haven’t gone to Berlin, because I wanted to be here at the academy this time around, but every day when we talk in the evening, I ask him how he is and he tells me he loves the cheering in the stadium. So now, we’ve told him that instead of challenging himself with just a medal, he should also make sure he constantly hears a lot more cheers.”
At the SSE, there is no dearth of that.