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Vol. XXXIII No. 11, September 16-30, 2023

In deep waters, and loving it – A chat with Aradhana, TN’s new diving star

-- by V. Venkataramana

Tamil Nadu has seen the emergence of a few swimming prodigies such as Kutraleeswaran Ramesh and Nisha Millet, with the former making her mark as the youngest swimmer to swim across six channels in a single calendar year at just 13 years. She also won 600 Gold medals at state, national, and international meets and represented India at the Asian Games in 1998 and the World Swimming Championships in 2004. She was also the first Indian to qualify for swimming at the Sydney Olympic Games in the 200-meter freestyle heat.

R. Aradhana.

Nisha shifted to neighbouring Karnataka which had better facilities. Happily for Tamil Nadu, another very young diving talent has emerged in Chennai. Last month, the National Diving Championship at the Velachery Aquatic Complex saw the 12-year-old R. Aradhana taking home the gold in the Girls Group III – 3 meter Spring Board Diving with the best score of 1170.45 points. She also bagged the Silver medal in Group III – 1 meter Spring Board Diving. According to the organisers, no other Tamil Nadu diver has achieved this before.

A resident of Adambakkam, Aradhana is a student of The Ashram school. “My first participation in the Nationals was at the 38th Sub Junior, and later in the 2022 June 48th National Aquatic Championships at Rajkot, Gujarat. I secured the 5th, 6th, and 7th positions in the 1-meter springboard, 3-meter springboard, and 5-meter platform” she says as she talks to Madras Musings about her story. Her second appearance was at the 39th Sub Junior and 49th Junior Diving and Waterpolo Nationals in Chennai last month. “Besides the Gold and Silver Medal wind, I secured the 4th place in the 5-meter Platform Diving,” recalls Aradhana.

Her tryst with aquatic sports began at age 4. “My parents were very particular about me not spending screen time on mobiles and computers after school. I enjoyed splashing about in the water, so I chose swimming before turning to diving. Jumping into the water from the diving platform was a joy for me. So, every day after my swimming lessons, I would get permission from my coach Mr. Duraisamy to teach me two jumps (dives). Soon, I wanted to focus entirely on Diving. But my coach told me that to get into any diving team, I would have to wait till I turned 10. A few months before I turned 10, I joined Durai Sir’s Diving team and started training,” said Aradhana. Her interest in her chosen sport grew passionate as her parents placed more importance on her sporting achievements. “In fact, between 4 to 9 years of age, my swimming training was largely playful — there was not much pressure about any participation in competitions. But once I got into Diving, competitive training started in full force. I needed a push from my parents whenever I slackened. This helped me overcome fear, and fatigue, and cope with the extended training hours,” she says.

When asked who coaches her in Swimming and Diving presently, Aradhana said, “My first Diving coach was Mr. Durai Sir in 2020. After 6 months of my training, he retired from service. After his retirement, there was no SDAT-appointed diving coach. So, the then stadium officer Mr. Prem Kumar began to train me and the others on our team. He was an international diver himself as well as an Army Diving coach,” she explained. “ Mr Prem Kumar trained us out of his own interest. Unfortunately, he was transferred to Thiruvallur. So, again there was no diving coach for another 4 months. In February this year, Mr. Ajay (Mr. Durai’s son) was appointed as the Diving coach. I practice every day over two sessions in the morning and evening at the SDAT Aquatic Complex in Velachery.”

Aradhana’s preparation for her triumphant 2023 July National Championships is a story of hard work and discipline. “After my first National Championship, I was very determined to win a medal in the following year. As I said earlier, we did not have any coach for 4 months. Still, I continued to go to the diving pool every morning and evening, practicing fitness and board jumps. Since diving is a risky sport, we were not allowed to practice without the guidance of a coach. By the time we got a coach, we had very little time to prepare for the Nationals. Our morning sessions began at 6 AM and lasted till 11:00 AM. The evening sessions were another four hours from 4 PM to 8 PM,” she said.

Aradhana’s school extended support, as well. “I was granted more than one month of leave, which allowed me to cope with the hectic schedule,” she reveals. Her toughest rivals turned out to be the teams from Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. “I focused on completing my dives perfectly, though I never expected to win a gold medal; I was hoping to grab the bronze at the very least,” confessed Aradhaha.
Aradhana is both ambitious and passionate when it comes to Diving. She sees her recent achievements as the beginning of a greater career in the sport and is focusing her practice on learning new techniques and nuances to master difficult dives. “I plan to take the guidance of my seniors, coaches, team, and other Diving experts whenever and wherever possible,” she says, adding, “Like any other sportsperson, my ambition is to win medals for my country and State in various National and World Championships, and ultimately, at the Olympics.”

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