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Sport Ace rower Rahul Baliga broke all records at the recent Madras-Colombo Regatta of the Madras Boat Club

Furiously down the stream Rahul Baliga
Furiously down the stream Rahul Baliga

H e may be pursuing his Masters in Electrical Engineering at the University of British Columbia in Canada; he may be having the best equipment and technique; his coach may be Ben Rutledge, the Canadian rower who won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics; but what Rahul Baliga fervently wished was to create history back home — at the Madras Boat Club.

“The 112-year-old Madras-Colombo Regatta is a big event in the rowing calendar, and preparing for it was my top priority in Canada,” said Rahul who flew down to Chennai to participate in it.

In the run-up to the race, his daily schedule in Canada was something like this: Wake up at four in the morning, row for two-and-a-half hours on the Fraser River, work on his research on renewable energies till evening, and then head to the gym. After two hours of workout, it was back to the research centre and, most often, he would spend the entire night there.

“I convinced my project supervisor about how important this race was to me and he advanced the deadlines for my submissions. And since I was clueless about the rowers I would be contesting with, I trained harder and asked my coach to help me prepare,” he said. Though undoubtedly one of the best rowers the Madras Boat Club has seen (he was the first civilian in 20 years, after his coach James Joseph, to win against the formidable Army team at the 2008 National Rowing Championship), he was still asked to take part in the selection races for the regatta, as per club rules.

Talking about how it was to row again on the Adyar river, he said that a mere 20 minutes on his first day had him zapped. “The heat tires you. The Indian climate is probably one of the biggest hurdles a rower faces while training,” he said. Winning all the four selection races not only brought back his confidence, but also propelled him into his record-breaking performance on D-day. In rowing terms, he became the first person to have won all four ‘A' events in a single day in the race's century-old history!

“When I saw Rahul in the men's room at the club, for the first time, I told his coach James that he must keep an eye on this guy, because I knew right then that he would go places,” said Abraham Kandathil, former president, the Madras Boat Club. “He has the physique of an international athlete — something that is hard to come by among us Indians,” he added.

Having broken all records at the Madras-Colombo Regatta, what next for Rahul? “In India, there is no incentive for rowing, so if you want to be in the sport, you have to be passionate about it. Though I will continue training, my career will take priority over rowing. I may not be able to break more records and maintain my present fitness, but it is enough for me that I keep rowing.”

Rahul also wants to change the perception that this sport is only for the elite and the Services. “Only if more people start taking it up as a serious sport, will the rowing scene in India change for the better. Youngsters need to be told about the perks — the fun of being fit and travelling across the world. There are four to six seats reserved every year at Anna University for rowers. I am pursuing my Masters thanks to a rowing scholarship. If you love the sport and give it your all, you can get a lot back from the sport,” he said.

Every one of us will remember the nursery rhyme, ‘Row, row, row your boat… Here's someone who took the rhyme much beyond his childhood.

ARUNA V. IYER

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