The last fortnight has been life-changing for Ridhima Veerendra Kumar. Over nine competitive days at the National Aquatic Championships here, she won nine golds and a silver, broke two National records and swept the backstroke races across the junior and senior divisions.
By the end of it, she was picked in the four-member Indian team for the FINA World Short Course Championships in Abu Dhabi this December — the lone woman — and at 14 will be among the competition’s youngest swimmers.
Hard work pays
“I didn’t expect to do as well,” Ridhima says, with a faint but confident smile. “Not this big, definitely. But I knew I had done the work. This was the first full month of racing after COVID-19 [lockdown] and at the end of the Nationals, my body was a bit worn out. But it feels good. All the hard work during the lockdown was worth it.”
The highlight of her success was her showdown with Olympian Maana Patel, seven years her senior. In juniors, she bettered two of Maana’s records and in seniors she beat the Gujarat swimmer to the gold across 50m, 100m and 200m.
“How much ever I tried to avoid, it was at the back of my mind,” says Ridhima. “But I knew that I had also trained for it and was as strong as her.”
Eye on timings
Gold medals weren’t her targets, but timings. And she only missed rewriting Maana’s National record in 50m backstroke by 0.05 seconds and in 100m backstroke by 0.07.
“I just swim to get a time and it doesn’t matter even if I get the silver. I am half a second off the best Indian performance in 100m (Maana’s 1:03.77 in Belgrade). If I keep going at this pace, I can better it. To qualify for Asian Games 2022 is my main target.”
Her run at the nationals and her age can give the impression that Ridhima has just exploded on to the National scene. But her coach at the Basavanagudi Aquatic Centre, John Christopher, believes her rise has been more steady than steep.
“Four years back she was 1:11 in 100m backstroke and slowly she has progressed to 1:04,” Christopher says. “By March-May, I expect her to go 1:03. I won’t say that she will go 1:01. I won’t say that she will be in the Olympics. She just has to put her head down and keep working.”
In that quest, Ridhima has her parents’ full backing and with a brother who played national-level basketball and father volleyball, she has people who understand the hardships of a sportsperson. The Delhi Public School (South) student appears primed for success.