Among the 67 persons, who got the Karnataka Rajyotsava award this year, is Belagavi-based para swimmer Raghavendra Anvekar, who has won several national and international tournaments.
He has represented India in 11 international events and 30 national tournaments. The young para swimmer won bronze at the Asiatic Para Games in 2010. He is also the winner of the National Sports Award for Best Sportsperson with Disability and the Ekalavya Award. He has won over 100 national medals and 30 international medals.
An employee of the Rani Channamma University, he swims several laps everyday. He is a member of the Belgaum Swimmers’ Club and the Aquarius Swim Club. A team of coaches, including Umesh Kalghatgi, Sudhir Kusane, Prasad Tendolkar, Anandeshwar Patil, and Kallappa Patil, train him in various aspects.
“Swimming comes nearest to dreaming. You forget all your worries and float away in a fantasy land,” he said.
He is upset about the concentration of swimming infrastructure in metros and big cities. “India is a country of rivers and streams. There are self-taught swimmers in every village on the banks of rivers. We should ensure that they are trained in the rules of competitive swimming and they will bring a haul of medals to India,” he said.
He said that medium-sized swimming pools should be built in small towns and coaches should be appointed to taluk and district towns.
He lost his feet to polio at a young age. His mother used to carry him on her shoulders to school. A philanthropist donated him a bicycle that he learnt to ride.
Mr. Kalaghatagi, veteran swimming coach, noticed him one day and asked his mother if she could send him to swimming class.
Mr. Raghavendra surprised everyone by learning to swim in a week. “I met him around 20 years ago. I noticed that he had determination and was willing to learn new things. I have not been proved wrong,” says Mr. Kalaghatagi.
Results were quick. Mr. Raghavendra won four golds at the national para swimming championships in 2002.
Mr. Raghavendra leads an otherwise active life. He is the secretary of the Belagavi Zilla Angavikalara Kalyan Sangha. As a member of the district systematic voters’ education and electoral participation programme committee, he worked with several folk artists to organise street plays across the district in the last general elections.