AT 21, ROHIT Sawant is a dancer, a certified Zumba instructor and life guard, open sea and pool swimmer. He holds an international record for swimming non-stop for 13 hours and has over 40 medals from various swimming competitions. Sawant is also autistic. He is representing India at the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games that will start in Abu Dhabi on March 14. Over 7,000 athletes from 190 countries will participate in the event.
It is a moment of pride for Rohit’s family, especially his mother, Mrunal.
Rohit will compete in the 100 m freestyle, 50 m breast stroke and 4 x 50 m medley relay. While the mother-son duo is in Abu Dhabi, Mrunal’s father Digambar Angchekar shares the family’s struggles with The Indian Express.
When he was in school, Rohit sustained a head injury and another one at the back of his head. He was prescribed a series of medicines, which worsened his condition, says his family.
Soon, Rohit struggled to even stand up and became confined to the house. He was then referred to a neurologist at the Tata Research Centre in Mumbai.
Experts at the centre were shocked that the child had been administered these medicines that had led to severe neurological damage. An MRI scan suggested that the veins connecting the two lobes of the brain had developed blockages and their growth was restricted. “The expert was not at all hopeful about Rohit becoming ‘normal’ and said he would have ADHD,” says Angchekar.
Rohit could not complete his formal education. It was his mother Mrunal who decided to encourage him to take up dance and swimming as an experiment to synergise his body and brain, so that he could walk and perform routine chores.
“My daughter would carry Rohit on her back and take him swimming at Shree Gym pool, under Santosh Londhe, and then for dance classes with Rahul Murumkar at Shree Dance Academy,” says Angchekar. Rohit responded passionately to music, dance and swimming, and soon, the child who could not even stand on his feet went on to win laurels at the dance and swimming academies. At Bal Kalyan Sanstha, a recreational and cultural centre for differently-abled children, he started taking swimming lessons under coach Abhijit Tambe.
Rohit now teaches Zumba, particularly to students at Bal Kalyan Sanstha. “He does not attend any school. I thought, rather than pushing him towards something he can never be, it is better to channelise his energy and groom his talent. This way, even if we are not there to take care of him in the future, he can sustain himself,” says his mother Mrunal.
According to Angchekar, Rohit’s achievements were a testament to the “indomitable spirit of his mother”. “She helped turn Rohit’s life, which had come to a standstill, around…,” says the proud grandfather. Rohit has represented Maharashtra in cycling at Bhopal, and at the Zumba International Convention in USA.
For now, Rohit has plans to swim the English Channel. His performance in the Malvan Open Sea Swimming competition in December last year , where he finished a distance of 1 km in a record time of four minutes and 50 seconds and won a gold medal, has now raised the chances of him winning a medal for India at the Special Olympics.