The last time there was a National Games in India, in 2015, Hashika Ramachandra was not quite serious about swimming. She deemed it, then, as something to pass the time with and help her cut down on some weight. She was, it must be noted, also only around seven years old then.
That mindset has changed drastically over recent years. Earlier this month, at the 36th National Games in Gujarat, the 14-year-old from Bengaluru won seven medals – of which six were gold – and walked away with the Best Female Athlete Award.
“It feels very good. I’m very happy. It’s a very big achievement, but there’s a lot more work to do. I’m trying not to let it get to my head yet,” Hashika told Scroll.in a conversation after her stellar show at the Sardar Patel Swimming Complex in Rajkot.
She set meet records in the 200m freestyle, 200m butterfly, 400m freestyle and was part of the record setting Karnataka women’s 4x200m freestyle relay team.
But for a long time, the Karnataka teenager considered swimming to be a “timepass” activity. Although she began swimming as a four-year-old, on the insistence of her mother to reduce weight and gain height, it took her a while before she finally took the sport seriously.
“I didn’t get that realization (of being good). I just went along with it and I’m happy where I am. My mum wanted me to be tall and all. The first few years it was just chill. I was not focusing much on anything,” she said.
Hashika began training at the Sindia Swimming School in Nagarbhavi, Bengaluru where coach Vikram N Kharvi spotted her talent. Like many Indian parents, Hashika’s weren’t too keen on letting her take up swimming more seriously and were initially not in favour of entering her in local competitions. However, Kharvi persisted and he even accompanied Hashika himself for swimming tournaments.
“It was Vikram sir who noticed her intelligence and talent for swimming when she went for basic training. It was he who convinced us to give competitions a shot and from there she began competing regularly,” Latha, Hashika’s mother told Scroll.in.
“When she began, I noticed there itself that she was stronger than other children her age,” Kharvi added in his conversation with this publication.
“She was also someone who did not like losing. I used to make my students race against each other regardless of their age and she would come last. She would go home and cry and complain against me saying that I shouted at her and made her compete against the older kids.
“Her mom would call me asking what happened and I would tell her as well that Hashika is strong but her laziness is holding her back. When she was competing in the U-8 level, she was way ahead of her competitors. She became interested and focused in swimming when she started going to competitions and began winning races. That was also when her parents realised Hashika’s talent,” he added.
The realisation spurred Hashika to take the sport more seriously and she began focusing more on training. Be it waking up at 5.00 am for a 5.30 am training or doing cardio exercises, Hashika would do it without complaining.
However, just as Hashika’s career started to take off, her father Ramachandra died of cancer in 2017. Though Latha admits that they suffered during that period, they overcame it together.
After training for five years at the Sindia academy, Hashika joined the Dolphin Aquatics at the Padukone-Dravid Center for Sports Excellence on Kharvi’s insistence to ensure his ward could train in a bigger pool.
To focus more on her swimming, Hashika switched to online-schooling in 2021 which has afforded her more time to train. A typical day for the teen begins with training at 5.00 am at Dolphin Aquatics. After training for a couple of hours, she’s studying from 10.30 am to 1.50 pm, and then trains for a couple of hours in the evening.
“It’s very hard (juggling academics and swimming). I’m home-schooled, which is a plus point. My school supports me through all of this. If I miss (a class), there are recorded classes done. I started home-schooling this year, so that I could focus more on swimming,” she said.
Though still in her early teens, Hashika has gone up against and bested swimmers much more older in her fledgling career. But she doesn’t let the competition weigh her down.
“I try not to get that pressure (of competing against older athletes) in my head, because at the end of the day, they’re also competitors, you’ve to compete with them, so you just have to do it. I just don’t think about them much, I swim my race normally,” she added.
It is that simple ability to focus solely on her race which made Hashika the first Karnataka athlete to win the Best Athlete award at the National Games since Nisha Millet did so 23 years ago in Imphal. Having started this sport with the idea of just something to pass the time, Hashika is now an athlete to keep an eye on for Indian swimming.