J. Agnishwar looks a little bemused at the amount of attention he's getting. He's at the Express Avenue mall for the launch of the new Jus Booster Juice stall, looking lithe and fit in a white tee and jeans, with photographers snapping away as he poses (a trifle self-consciously) with his all-natural smoothie in hand.
The 20-year-old Chennai-based swimmer, who was a gold medallist at the open Nationals this year and just got back from representing India at the Commonwealth Games, is one of India's most promising young swimming talents. But he's also just a regular kid — and a rather shy and studious one at that.
“I've been on a high this year, after winning the coveted 200m medley at the open Nationals and being at the CWG. But now I'm set for a two-month breather — I have to finish writing my exams for two semesters,” says the second-year mechanical engineering student at R.M.K. Engineering College.
Some breather, that! It's ‘a little hard' he admits: “I'll have to put in about 16 hours of study a day since I have so much to catch up with, plus do basic training since I can't afford to lose fitness.”
A fine balance
Sounds like a lot of work, but then this is a boy who takes his studies very seriously. In fact, his eyes glow with as much pride when he talks about topping class XII in Biology at Chettinad Vidyashram (“only school topper,” he clarifies) as when he discusses being part of the CWG.
“It was my first time representing India at the CWG and it was such a huge event, a magnum opus — it was just fantastic to be part of it,” he says. “I made it to the semis, and placed ninth and eleventh, which was good considering I'm in the transitional stage from juniors. Until last year, I was part of the under-18 events; now I'm competing against 25 and 26 year olds.”
In juniors, Agnishwar racked up quite a few State, National and International medals and records. His dedication to swimming meant that when the time came, he decided to let go of his childhood dream — medicine. “I'd always wanted to become a doctor, and I even got a seat in a couple of medical colleges,” he says. “But I wouldn't be able to attend classes, and I didn't want to do it if I couldn't dedicate myself to the profession. Tomorrow someone's life would be in my hands.”
The youngster is directing all his determination towards making it in the world of international competitive swimming. “During the CWG, people kept asking why Australian swimmers have such an advantage,” he says. “The answer is that they are physically very superior. We can't match their height of 6'5”, but we can beat them in technical aspects and perseverance.” He adds, “That's what I'm going to do — in three years, I will catch up with the Australian swimmers. I have that belief.”
All this means he's hardly ever at home — he trains all over the world, in Australia, Europe and the U.S., throughout the year. “I need high-quality coaches and fast swimmers to swim against,” he says. “That's not always available in India.”
Chennai, he says, with a rueful smile, is more like a ‘holiday home'. “The hardest part is being away from my parents and my brother for months at a stretch — I miss them all so very much,” he says, suddenly sounding very young. “You have to be mentally strong to cope with it.”
As the event winds up, Agnishwar earnestly tells us why Jus Booster Juice, the North American juices and smoothies chain, is special — they use no sugar, artificial sweeteners or synthetic additives. It's for the health conscious. And — you can't help but think — quite as wholesome as its brand ambassador.