“Disability is only a state of mind,” says 32-year-old Satendra Singh Lohiya, an outstanding para-swimmer, who has proved that nothing can stop a person from following his dreams.
Born in the Gata village of the Bhind district in Madhya Pradesh, Lohiya had developed an interest in swimming right from his childhood. But a severe attack of diarrhoea weakened his nerves and left him paralysed him for life and wheelchair-bound at a very young age. Lohiya had a choice: let his disability define him for the rest of his life, or fight the odds. Life wasn’t easy, but his indomitable will and steely determination kept him going even when the community discouraged him.
“My disability put a huge financial burden on my parents,” reminisces Lohiya. Despite all the challenges my family faced, my father did everything to provide us with a good education.” In 2007, his father sold his land in Bhind and shifted to Gwalior.
Lohiya’s life changed when he was introduced to Dr VK Dabas, who was the Head of Department – Swimming, Laxmibai National Institute Education Physical (LNIEP). “Dr Dabas’s rigorous training was extremely beneficial and he has had a tremendous positive influence on my life,” reflects Lohiya.
The young para-swimmer’s life took another turn when he participated at X-National Paralympics Swimming Championship held in Kolkata in 2009. He won a Bronze medal in the Free Style category against 400 swimmers. This helped him boost his self-confidence, and since then, he hasn’t looked back.
Each leg of his journey is inspirational. But Lohiya is quick to point out that if it hadn’t been for the Tata Trusts, his ambitions of crossing the English Channel and the Catalina Channel would have remained unrealised. “I had made 25 applications knocking on various doors for sponsorships,” he remembers. With nothing to lose, he approached the Trusts for sponsorship. “They came forward willingly to support my dreams, and I was very proud to receive funding.”
In response to his request for sponsorship, the Trusts awarded him Rs 5.4 lakhs in 2017 to finance his swim across the English Channel. Unfortunately, extremely low temperatures caused this attempt to end in failure. “But the Trusts didn’t back out,” says Lohiya, gratefully. “They contributed Rs 2,50,000 towards a second attempt in 2018.
Lohiya set a record by crossing the English Channel in 12 hours 26 minutes. It was a proud moment.
The Trusts also awarded Lohiya a medical grant of Rs 2,45,000 towards his surgery in Pune.
In 2019, Lohiya embarked on another dream – to cross the equally-challenging 42km Catalina Channel, one of the most popular open-water marathon swims in the world. He was to lead the Indian Para Relay team of five swimmers; the Trusts fuelled this marathon swim with a grant of Rs 2,00,000 to each of them. The Indian para-swimming team crossed the Catalina Channel in 11 hours 34 minutes. In doing so, they created another record – they were the first team from Asia to have crossed the Catalina Channel.
“We encountered challenges at every step, recalls Lohiya. “Low temperature, cold winds, icy waters, ocean currents, sharks and jellyfish notorious for their deadly sting…”
Currently, Lohiya, a resident of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, is making headlines for all the right reasons. His outstanding skill as a para-swimmer has fetched him several awards including the Vikram Award in 2014, the highest sports award in Madhya Pradesh. On December 3, 2019, he received the National Award for the ‘Best Sportsperson with Disability’ from Vice President Venkaiah Naidu.
His outstanding achievements have also impressed Prime Minister Narendra Modi whom he met on March 13, 2020, in New Delhi. An excited Lohiya says, “It was the proudest moment of my life.”
For Lohiya, his strength comes from his indomitable will power. On a regular day, he practices swimming for two-three hours, along with yoga and meditation. To stay positive, he reads inspirational books.
Lohiya has many more dreams to achieve in the coming days. He wants to open an academy to coach disabled students. Currently, he gives motivational talks in various schools and colleges by sharing his inspirational story with others, and telling them about the power of sport.
He started swimming at the National Level since 2009. In a bid to promote para sports in Madhya Pradesh, he had filed a Writ petition in the Gwalior High Court in 2014 along with a request to the Director MP Sports Department. As a result, the Sports Department has come up with a sports policy for para-sports in March 2019. He credits his success to IAS officer P Narhari, the then Collector (District Magistrate of Gwalior) for his moral support and encouragement.
Lohiya is keen to keep his winning momentum and is busy practising for the International Wheelchair & Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS) World Games in Thailand in December 2020 before the Tokyo Paralympics in 2021 – a tough task, but he remains optimistic.
Lohiya has certainly proved that disability is only a state of mind. “The only disability in life is a person’s bad attitude,” he concludes.