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Our guest this time is 19 years old national swimmer – Utkarsh Patil, a name that has made waves in Indian Swimming off late. Born with an innate passion for the water, Utkarsh has risen to become one of India’s most celebrated swimmers, embodying the spirit of determination and perseverance. With every stroke, he exemplifies the true spirit of a sportsman, proving that with dedication and determination, dreams can be turned into reality.
Last summer Utkarsh came into spotlight, at the 2022 Junior National Aquatic Championships in Bhubaneshwar, where he swam three lifetime best times, in the 100 back, 200 fly, and 50 back. He eventually won gold in the 100 backstroke, 200 butterfly, and 200 backstroke, and silver in the 50 backstroke.
In an exclusive open and frank conversation with Cynergysports, Utkarsh opened up on his journey to success. Feel free to drop your comments below.
Briefly tell us about your journey into aquatics. How did it all start for you, and what motivated you to pursue swimming at a competitive level?
My parents have been my biggest inspiration who motivated me to pursue swimming as a career. Being software engineers, they also built my website showcasing my talent and supporting me every step of the way. It all started when I was around 3 years old.
We lived in Whitefield, Bangalore where we had a swimming pool in our apartment and where I used to get in the pool, spend hours there without any support. I remember an instance when one summer my parents weren’t home and I jumped into the pool all by myself and I couldn’t blow air into the life jacket, so I kept swimming till they returned. That is when they realized my innate skills for the sport, and I knew that day my love for the water and the satisfaction and inner joy I felt.
Eventually I joined a summer camp and a few coaches started observing my attributes and suggested my parents to consider it as an option for my career. Back then Whitefield didn’t have 50m Olympic size pools, so we shifted to Basavanagudi in Jayanagar where I joined PMSE and trained until 2014. Thereafter, I joined Basavanagudi Aquatic Center which is a Khelo India recognized center. I have been training under John Chrsitopher since then.
Presently I am also preparing for my further studies at University of Indiana -Bloomington, USA which is home to one of the best swimming programs in the world.
How was the application process for applying in the universities in the US – and what role did your coach John Chrisopher play? Was he supportive of your decision?
My coach has been very supportive in motivating me towards the journey, as the workload of institutes in the USA is enormous, compared to the training I have been receiving so far. Hence, I believe the transition will be phenomenal for my growth. I was really skeptical earlier about my decision which led to the procrastination in my application. I referred to a lot of counselors as well who suggested to me that getting an admission in the Division 1 program in the USA, one of the best swim programs in the world, would be next to impossible. With my mom’s guidance and support I applied, and my excellent swim record and skills helped me to get in.
Tell us about how do you prepare yourself physically and mentally before a major competition like the National Aquatics Championships?
Initially it was quite challenging for me, and I didn’t really admire the feeling before every competition. Though over the years, I started embracing the competitive side of these tournaments from trash talk to competitors demotivating you. I feel it helps me a lot to perform better and provides me with necessary fuel to perform better.
Your best in backstroke 100m is 57.6s, what is your best in 100m fly? Also, what about 200m back and fly?
My best in the fly is 56.1s for 100m, and for free I don’t race. For free trials though, I have gone 52.1s. 200m back on the other hand is 2:04:60s and same for 200m for fly.
How do you incorporate gym sessions into your overall training routine? What are the main goals you aim to achieve through your gym workouts? Can you share some of the key exercises you include in your gym routine that are particularly beneficial for your swimming performance?
So, unlike other swimmers my parents never forced me into lifting weights. In fact, I still don’t lift a lot. I didn’t touch weight until I was 15 or 16. It was all my body weight. So, it’s just me trying to control my body until I can add any resistance to it. Presently I am working with Invictus Sports Performance where we work to ensure that I am in the best shape possible without doing much so minimal workout maximum results. In fact they are helping me to make sure that I am ready to take on the load for my Indiana (USA) adventure. I saw the videos where they do intense pull ups etc. and currently I am unable to do more than 8 to 10 so they are helping me build upon it.
Do you work with a specific nutritionist to develop your diet plans? If so, could you share the role they play in your overall performance? Are there any specific dietary guidelines or nutritional principles that you follow to optimize your training and recovery as a swimmer?
I was never forced to follow any diets. Though I get tempted every now and then, yet I try to control it. I tried a few nutritionists, but my mom has been the best at it, and I believe home cooked meals are the best. The nutritionists I referred to, provided me with a chart with the right number of proteins, carbs and carbohydrates to follow in my diet and we try to inculcate it into my diet. In this regard, I intake red meat once a week and chicken and fish two to three times a week.
Aquatics is a physically demanding sport. How do you balance your training regime with other aspects of life, such as studies and personal life?
It begins early in the morning. Right from 5:30 to 8:30 which involves swimming sessions mostly, then I used to go school and be back by 3pm. Thereafter I used to hit the gym for weight training and again back to the pool from 5:00pm to 7:30pm. As for my studies, I didn’t have trouble till 11th standard in school as I was an attentive student in the classes. Though 12th standard was a bit tricky, as I took up science and also I couldn’t attend much school due to South African Nationals, Khelo India and other similar competitions. As a result of missing my classes, I had to work really hard during January and February. Eventually I managed to complete my secondary school with great results.
Walk us through your typical swimming training regime? Do you focus on a specific stroke during each training session, or do you incorporate multiple strokes in a single session? How does your plan look like?
So from 5: 30 to 6:30 am, I do running and do some core exercises to build core stability after which I get into the pool at around 6:30. Warm up is pretty universal throughout which we do every session. As for the sets, we follow our coach’s guidance and we are not very sure on it, as he likes to keep it that way. Reason being, a lot of swimmers tend to ease into the set if they know it beforehand. Coach believes that the sets should be random and the muscles and body should reflect in the moment to keep it interesting. If he provides a set, he expects us to go all out and perform at our best in the given timeframe without worrying about the next set.
So, what do you do during your personal time outside of the training etc.
School was a good place though I didn’t have much of a social life and didn’t hang around much with my friends. My mom however was quite persistent with me on going around with them every Saturday and Sunday, and having a life like a normal young adult so I don’t miss out on anything in life.
How has been your transformation throughout the years in the sport and how did it help you shape your journey? How was it to get training under John Christopher?
I truly resonate with the quote, “fall in love with the sport before indulging into the professional aspect of it.” In light of this, until age 9 years old I was just enjoying the sport and my passion for it. I kept exploring different water parks and beaches, embracing my journey. Thereafter at PMSE, I trained competitively for a year and eventually won my first Junior National where I bagged two golds, two silvers and two bronze. Thereafter in Basavanagudi, I started being mentored under John Christopher who has helped me progress a lot in the sport and develop a strong forte in it. In 2019, at the Asian Age game I won two silver medals. He was really supportive towards me and planned a few camps and other strategies as well, though it all came to halt as the pandemic struck. We couldn’t do much during covid times, but after things got back to normal, I went for training in South African National Camp in 2022 and participated in the South African Nationals. It was an open competition where people of different backgrounds, age groups and countries participated. Amongst such a vast number of participants, I managed to win a Bronze. In 2022, I won several medals in Khelo India and even broke a National Record.
So Utkarsh, out of the four strokes which are the ones that you have a strong forte in, do you practice them all or do you have any preferences?
I focus mostly on backstroke and butterfly. I don’t train in other strokes at all, but freestyle is involved in every practice for us. So basically, it’s free, back and fly that I train but I race only back and fly stroke, as I am more comfortable with these especially in 200m. I take part in – 50m, 100m and 200m backstrokes and 100m to 200m fly. 50m – I don’t like to really practice as it gets over in a fraction of a second. I like to control the race, so I can plan better and in 200 I can use all of those skills. 50m and 100m is more of speed and power and less of endurance, whereas 200m there is no room for going slow and involves a bit of everyone.
Your biggest inspirations or role models in the world of aquatics, and how have they influenced your career?
Some of my role models are Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe, Michael Phelps and Caleb Dressel. These three had very different intake on swimming. I resonate with Ian the most as he had this personified aspect of water, and showcased it as a living thing to work with it. Michael on the other hand didn’t care about the water and wanted to get his work done whereas Caleb likes to focus on the part that there is even life apart from swimming. So I like to take their insights and learn from all of them and incorporate it as a part of my life and journey.
Your future aspirations in the sport of aquatics. Do you have any specific goals you would like to achieve in the coming years?
I am looking forward to preparing a swimming program in Indiana (USA) to elevate my understanding of the sport and enhance my skills getting – under one of the top institutes globally. I intend to rebuild from the ground up and make a mark for myself. I recently qualified for the Youth Commonwealth tournament and I am amongst the Senior Nationals qualification for World Juniors, so these are the tournaments I am looking ahead to. I intend to make a mark for myself and evolve as one of the topmost Indian swimmers in the coming years.
In your opinion, who are some of the most promising upcoming talents in the world? What qualities or attributes make them stand out? Do you have any sponsors at the moment?
I believe Siva Sridhar, Tanish George, Sajan Prakash is some of the most promising talents. They have always helped me whenever I approach them with any query. I have been sponsored by Khelo India since 2020 and Indian Oil since last year.
CynergySports wishes Utkarsh Patil, a safe health & a great 2023. Onwards & Upwards…!! We thank him for his time & his support to the community.
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