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Chahat Arora is a rising star in the world of Indian swimming, known for her exceptional skills in breaststroke. With remarkable speed and determination, she has carved a niche for herself as one of the fastest breaststrokers in India. Her dedication to the sport and relentless training have not only earned her accolades but also inspired aspiring swimmers nationwide.
Chahat has been swimming since the age of 4 years who has represented India in several national and international games since 2015 in South Asian Games, World Swimming, World University Games, and more. There have also been instances when she broke her record twice a day which is not easy. Moreover, she is also a fitness streak and firmly believes in Iron therapy which has worked for her.
Unfazed by the injury, Chahat has made a strong comeback recently in National Games 2023, and bagged gold in 100m breastroke event. That’s some statement and power!
Let’s delve into this intriguing interview with Chahat Arora herself and discover her journey from pools to Fastest breastroker of India.
Please tell us more about you and where you are in your professional swimming journey presently?
To begin with, I hail from a small city, Chandigarh. Not many facilities are available here so I keep traveling most of the time. Last 5 to 6 years I have been training in Thailand at Thanyapura in Phuket and it has been an amazing stint so far, as my coaches have been very understanding and supportive and even the facilities are also incredible. As my coach recently relocated to China so I decided to come back to India and am getting my training in Bangalore at the Global Swim Centre.
Bangalore’s weather and the people are incredible. Also, training is great. I aspire to participate in the Olympics and I am still trying for it. Though I am 26 and have almost reached the end of my career, I don’t believe in giving up and want to give it my all. I have been competing with quite young people who are very talented and energized which makes me really proud to see Indian swimming soar to such heights. While it is inspiring for me, it is also very competitively tough as the kind of training facilities they have now at their service was not available to me during our times.
That’s great… Are you following the Asian Games 2023? What are your thoughts on India’s performance?
Yes, Indian swimmers have been doing a great job. Earlier we never had any finalists and this year a lot of candidates reached the finals and showcased exceptional results. Even the girls relay team managed to go to the finals. It was great watching them perform at this level.
So Chahat coming back to you, talking about juniors in Swimming occupying the positions and making the qualifiers tougher, is this the reason for your Iron Therapy?
I guess so, but I have been a fitness freak myself since a young age which keeps me experimenting and trying new things in Gym. It fuels me to keep going at it, as getting in the pool and following the same routine can be a bit monotonous at times. Hence, to keep myself motivated I explore different activities in Gym by doing crossfit, weight training and many more.
As per our knowledge, you are the fastest breastroker in India and to keep retaining the title, what makes you still feel threatened by the upcoming aspirants in the industry?
Yes I do have a good tag of being the fastest breaststroker in India, though the competitions still exist.
50m is an event which is a very short race so everything needs to be perfect as even a minute mistake can ruin it all. So, only when I got the recognition I believed I was quite good at it and I can still do better. The youngsters are equally doing good but I need to keep pushing myself in order to retain the tag as everyone is aiming for it.
Is it very common for women swimmers to opt for breaststroke?
I believe breaststroke is one of the hardest events as one needs a lot of rhythm for it and it requires immense power due to the kind of resistance we get in waters. I don’t believe any gender really matters here; it’s more about how well one is in that rhythm to nail it.
With breastroke it’s like one is exceptional at it or very bad at it, there is nothing in between. It takes a while to master it and also it requires great leg strength. Most breastrokers in India are from North India as they are known to have good leg strength. But people from Karnataka are also doing pretty well nowadays.
What is your timing now? Earlier it was 1 mins and 30 seconds. Is it still your PB or did you overcome it?
No, that has been my best so far and I couldn’t reach it again as I got injured this year and I am still recovering and getting back in shape. Hopefully I will be able to break it again as there were a lot of mistakes in that match. I feel I need to keep working hard and soon will be able to get back to it.
So what pushed you to break two records in a single day? What was your drive and mindset behind it?
I wanted to break the records in heats as well and not wait for the finals.
As sometimes what happens is you cannot push yourself as fast as you can in the heats as you are quite fresh in the morning. So I didn’t go all out but went 95% fast, as I knew I broke a record in the morning and if I pushed myself more I could do it again and not worry about my timings. So finals was all about getting the podium finish.
How do you mentally prepare yourself before such big tournaments?
I believe more in myself than just self-talk. You know you have worked really hard which provides you with the confidence that after such training sessions I just have to give my 100% in this one race. So it just comes from the kind of training and also on race day you have to be very strong mentally and focus on your goals and have a winning spirit. This is what I believe helped me last year.
Can you tell us about your injury, how you are shaping up and if you will be retrieving back to the field this year?
Initial part of 2023, I tore my knee ACL which took me three to four months of rest as I couldn’t move at all. Moreover breaststroke was really out of the scene as it requires a lot of knee movements. I could just do full sets or upper body strengthening in Gym.
It was mentally really challenging for me owing to which I visited several doctors and some even suggested to me that I would require a knee surgery to get back in shape. This took a toll on my mental health last year. This year has been quite devastating in that sense. Given these instances I lost shape and gained a lot of weight and even my endurance was not great as well.
Once I started training and got back in shape, I had to be very careful with my knee as my rehab sessions were going on and I couldn’t give my 100%. So, when you can’t give it your all, I started comparing myself to a few sets which would come so easily during my fit days, and now it was making me exhausted even during 1000m swimming. It was really tough to get through that phase.
So, I believe recovering from an injury requires a lot of patience and a strong mindset.
As you correctly pointed out, recovering from injuries can be exhausting mentally. When you witness newcomers going for the championship and aiming for your position while you are on rest, how do you motivate yourself in such instances?
I believe my mother has been my biggest strength who supported me immensely throughout the process. My whole family for that matter has been my biggest support system. If it was for anyone else getting injured at the age of 26-27, they would have asked them to retire from the sport, as it’s the easiest option. I still want to learn a lot of things and see if I can make it to the Olympics and Asian Games. This year I coudn’t make it because of my injury. Next station is not too long, just three years. This has been my biggest inspiration so far.
So you PB till now in 50m is 33 seconds?
Actually it’s 32.9 seconds which was a big deal as I was the first Indian female to go sub 33 in breaststroke. It has been one of the biggest achievements for me so far.
Do you follow any particular strategies for the longer formats?
There are no particular strategies but for events like 100m, you just can’t go first 50m slow and other 50m fast. Both have to be the same.
That’s truly phenomenal. Can we though rewind to the days when you started your career in swimming?
I started swimming when I was four years old. My elder brother Sparsh used to go swimming and my mom used to take me along. I used to sit on the stairs and observe him. It all started one day when I started floating, was when I learnt swimming on my own and everyone was shocked.
After that instance I started training in summers and in winters we used to go skating, music and dance classes. My parents were keen on putting us in extracurriculars which helped me build my resilience and determination. Eventually I started winning medals in the sport from a young age. That’s when we pursued the option of taking it as a career.
My brother dropped in between as he wanted to focus on his studies and he was really good at it. I however continued and won medals in state-level, national level, international level and breaking records in Nationals, which kept me going. I would want to keep going because as a child you want to be best at everything and keep winning in order to be motivated. So, I believe that played a crucial role for me. I still remember my first Indian jersey in the International tournament was a dream come true. I could resonate with the movie Bhaag Milkha Bhaag where he wanted the jersey so badly that when he received it he was in tears and the same happened with me.
Can you also enlighten us a bit about your family? How was the support from their end during your journey? Also any of them have an athletic background or was it just you and your brother?
It has been phenomenal and I am blessed to be part of such a loving and supportive family. My mom has especially played a huge role in where I am today. She keeps traveling with me and sacrificing her life for my achievements. Sometimes she has to even miss birthdays and anniversary celebrations at home just to be there for me. Even my brother and sister-in-law have been extremely supportive towards my goals since the initial day. I am truly grateful for them.
All of them are big fitness freaks. My mom keeps going for yoga and walking sessions regularly and my dad still plays badminton at this age. All of my family has been indulging in some kind of sport but not professionally. Though I have been the only one who has participated and bagged medals in National and International level from my family.
That must truly be a proud moment for your family, which they would carry with them forever. As parents they would love to wear your jersey as a family honor..
Yes, so sometimes when I don’t get my size, I get a medium or large which fits my dad. He wears it and feels so proud about it
Coming back to swimming, how did you get the injury? ACL tears usually happen when you stress your knee a lot and generally outside the pool. Could you elaborate a bit more on it?
It happened when we were doing dryland and I fell on my knee and it twisted due to which I had a partial tear on it.
It wasn’t a complete tear, though I still had to go for rehab sessions. It took me a while to come to a conclusion whether I should stick to rehab or go for surgery since it was a huge shock for me and everything happened like a bolt from the blue.
It took me some time to normalize the pain and get back to training. Though, I decided to go against the surgery as it was a partial tear. Even reconstruction surgery didn’t assure me 100% recovery of my injury owing to which a few physiotherapists asked me to allow it to heal naturally and be patient. It hasn’t been easy for me, yet I didn’t give up and came through it.
Can you describe to us your daily routine, when you are training?
For us swimmers, the day starts pretty early. I used to get up at 4:30am and be at the pool by 5-5:10am. Do a bit of stretching, get into the pool by 5:30am and be over with my session around 7:30 am. Then I used to head home for my breakfast and hit the gym if it was a gym day and do weight training.
Come back for lunch, have a nap and again head to the pool in the evening. My evening sessions used to vary from 5-7pm or 6-8pm. Presently I train from 6:30-8:30pm. Then return home, have dinner and sleep.
Our days are pretty quick where mornings turn to nights quickly. For some people it can be a bit boring or monotonous but for me it is quite exciting as I believe I get to learn something new everyday which makes it quite challenging and intriguing for me. I have been enjoying my athletic life so far and my mother is here with me in Bangalore as a huge support, which also keeps me going everyday.
Tell us a little about the facilities where you are training?
The facilities are not as good as compared to Thailand, though coaches are pretty amazing and understanding which makes it quite helpful for me to get into constructive discussions with them about my game.
In Thailand we had an Olympic size pool with an in-house gym. There were also facilities of ice bath and steam for recovery and besides the coaches were themselves athletes of Olympics.
Support from my coaches covers everything though during my training in Bangalore. Moreover, I enjoy staying in Bangalore as the weather is amazing everyday here. It’s raining and chilly, so I love it. Even people are very friendly, nice and speak Hindi. I stay in SadaShivnagar, right next to the academy so traveling is also easy for me, for my regular sessions.
That’s very true. Bangalore can be quite amazing for people who adjust to its culture and people. So coming back from Thailand must be a tough decision for you as it has a great infrastructure and swimming is followed religiously which testifies to its facilities.
How did you go about it and lay out a plan on how to move ahead and which institute to choose in India for training?
So coming back was a huge and tough decision like you pointed out. I was staying there alone, training and meeting new people everyday as swimmers are there from all over the world. Thus, I had friends from Australia, Europe and Africa. Though I had no one to train with, as no breastroker was there. We did all the training and workouts and the team was pretty big but I had no one to pace with.
So this decision to return was well-thought when my coach Miguel quit. It also cost me an arm and a leg. Hence I decided to return to Bangalore as there were a lot of breastroker and as I am not in good form right now. So training with people in the same field will provide me a competitive edge as I practice with someone faster than me and allows me to hone my skills more effectively and rapidly. It also provides me someone I can pace with and even teammates are amazing. Also competition is quite healthy and helpful, which is the best.
Tell us about your fitness routine as you have been a fitness freak as evident from your instagram channel? Also please provide light on your nutrition and diet regime?
I got into fitness and gym as my coach suggested that I do weight training to enhance my swimming performance. Though it started for swimming, it has turned into a hobby eventually. So if I dont go to the gym and pick up weights for two days, I feel very dull and powerless. I am aware it’s all about our thought process and that’s not how it works. The feeling you get working out makes you feel stronger and pushing yourself every week. Hence, I believe it’s a key motivation for me that if I can lift heavy weights, I can swim faster.
A lot of coaches don’t push you into weights at an early age as they believe you should pick up gradually and use your body weight. You are trying to defeat the norms and firmly believe it helps you perform better. Your thoughts?
I have always had coaches who have never interfered with my gym sessions and provided me liberty to explore as long as I am giving a good performance. Though yes I also believe that your gym sessions shouldn’t affect your performance at the pool or our training sessions so everything needs to be balanced.
How do you balance it? Do you do fitness and swimming everyday?
I do weight training everyday. I avoid going to the gym everyday as my body needs to heal.
I am 26 and my body needs time to recover as I am not a teenager anymore. So I don’t push a lot in the gym but I do quality workout instead of quantity workout. Even if I do three exercises they should be top-notch.
Do you have a coach or do you plan your workout yourself?
I did have a S&C coach four to five years back but he relocated to the USA. Since then, I have been doing my workout myself and just keep doing what I have been doing. As it has improved my game so far, I believe I can stick to it
What about your nutrition and dietary needs?
My mom has been planning my diet. She prepares healthy meals which include proteins, carbs, healthy fats, fruits, veggies, fish, meat and everything. We also have cheat days where we eat junk and both enjoy it. Our favorite meal is butter chicken and Garlic Naan so we go and have it outside.
Which players do you follow closely?
I follow Lily King and in Mens, I follow Adam Pete (fastest breastroker in the world). Even Michael Phelps has been an inspiration to every swimmer in the entire world. I try to learn as much as possible, from the swimming community and every other swimmer, as every person teaches something or the other.
Lastly, any sponsors or corporate engagements you are associated with?
So far, ENGN has supported me this year and I am extremely grateful to them as they helped me lay off the financial burden and focus on my game.
Some Fun Questions:
Most challenging swimming drill you’ve ever done
The underwaters as holding the breath for 50m is quite tough
Favorite way to relax after a tough practice.
I believe in eating good stuff, watching Netflix and sleeping.
If you weren’t a swimmer, what sport do you think you’d be doing professionally?
I would have been a dancer.
Favorite swimwear brand.
Funkita, it’s an Australian brand. They have nice funky and colorful stuff. Though, you don’t usually find it in India.
Last show you binge-watched.
I have been watching a lot of series lately. Last one was Task Masters on Youtube.
Besides swimming, do you have any other hobbies or sports you enjoy?
Golf, as I have been going for Golf sessions with my brother
A dish from your childhood that you still love to eat.
Butter Chicken is something my whole family enjoys.
Someone you look up to outside of the athletic world.
My mom, as she has been my biggest strength in life
Any memorable moments in your sporting career?
The day I broke the national record and went sub32 in 50m Breaststroke.
CynergySports wishes Chahat Arora, a safe health & a great 2023. Onwards & Upwards…!! We thank her for her time & her support to the community.
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