Come October 6th and Mohammad Shams Aalam Sheikh would become the first Para-swimmer from Bihar to represent India at the Para-Asian Games. However, the ride hasn’t been smooth at all. It has been full of ups and downs and full of fights with his will and his body. But the fiercest of the fights has been with adversities.
Born on July 17th, 1986 in Rathos village of Madhubani district in Bihar, Shams Aalam had a sporting bend of mind right from Childhood. He used to swim in the backyard pond in his village at a tender age of 3 years, as is claimed by his mother. To gain better education, Shams Aalam along with his brother moved to Mumbai when he was six years of age. Over here, he developed interest in Karate and represented his academy and India in various age groups in it. He did his graduation in B.Tech and was working in a company in Mumbai. Life was as smooth as it should be.
However, Fate had decided something else for him. Having discovered minor problems in his body, Shams Aalam went to a doctor, who advised him a normal check-up. It was later found that he has a benign tumour on his spinal cord. The doctors advised him a minor surgery to remove the tumour. But the surgery failed. Remembering that time, Shams Aalam says, “The spinal cord injury, which led to me being paraplegic (paralysed from chest down), could be termed as pure neglect of duties on the part of doctors. In the first attempt, they did not operate the tumour which had to be operated, instead they operated something else which led to the worsening of the situation.”
The Fight Back
After the 2010 fatal accident, the entire family shifted to Bombay. He went to a paraplegic rehabilitation centre and found many people like him. That gave him the belief that he too can survive and not only survive, but do great things in life as well. As advised by doctors, he started swimming again. That took him from 100% disablity to 72%. This was a huge improvement.
Then came the 2014 National Championships, It could very well be considered as the 2nd turning point of Shams’ life. He won four gold medals and was also awarded the best Para swimmer in his category. As of right now, he holds the Limca Book of World Record for longest open sea swimming by a paraplegic. He swam 8kms in 4 hours and 4 minutes in the open seas of Goa.
Apart from gaining individual success, Shams Aalam started giving back to the society as well. Talking about his first endeavour, he says, “Before 2010, I too was a normal human being, I had no idea of what was happening in the Para sports world. However, having decided to pursue swimming as a sport in Para division, I realised the challenges that Para athletes face on a daily basis. To give a platform to the athletes, especially kids pursuing Para sports to move ahead in life and to fight back with honour, I decided to register Para Sports Association Mumbai. After having built a platform, I along with all the association members organised Maharashtra’s first Paralympic Games.”
The Need for Sponsorship and Financial Support
Financial support has been one of the biggest hindrances for Shams till now. He says he has not got the ideal support from the authorities so far. Having written many times to various authorities of the state, he is yet to have a desired result.
Talking about taking his record to the Guinness book, he says, “I wanted to take it to Guinness Book of World Records. But due to lack of money, I was not able to give the registration fees of $10,000.” A parallel body called “World Record Academy” has however listed his record on their website. It isn’t only about the records; recently he travelled to London to participate in World Series Para-Swimming Championship, held in the county of Sheffield. He did not have funds to travel there and sought sponsorship from the government. But he was unable to receive any help.
Talking about this experience he says, “I had applied for donations on a facilitating website, Milap.org. However, my expectations of ₹1,73,000 were not met positively. I need money for equipments and to cover my travelling expenses for training and participation in various games. Due to lack of financial support from the government and association, I had to borrow from friends and was also helped by Nitro Fitness Centre, Mumbai. The main aim of participating in this event was to prove myself fully fit and ready for Para Asian games, so that not a single selector can point a finger that I lack this or that and hence my candidature is not cancelled.”
The Trip to United States
Shams Aalam was also selected for the Global Sports Mentorship Program 2018. It’s a five week immersion program initiated by the US department of State in partnership with the University of Tennessee.
He was among the 18 delegates selected all around the world to stay and train in America. Apart from the training and confidence, he also received an alumni certificate from the institution. With that certificate, he is now eligible for grants from the foundation. The grants would be awarded to him if and when he organises any sporting event for the people with disability.
Apart from the training and alumni ship, another thing that he realized living in the US was the pipeline theory. According to him, “They have a pipeline for athletes. They train them young. Whether it is normal athletes or Para Athletes, they have a program for everybody. It is the main reason why there would be no shortage of athletes over there. We need to incorporate something like that within our system.”
The Ultimate Goal
“Accessibility through sports” is his main action plan. He wants to take it to rural India. According to research, only 31% of people with disability stay in urban area, rest 69% in the rural area of India. So he believes that to reach the chunk of the people, his organisation and he himself needs to focus on rural India.
As of now he is focused on his games and wants to participate in the 2020 Paralympics. Once it’s done, he plans to begin his programme from his home district of Madhubani.
Watch his interview with PatnaBeats:
“I want to tell the kids with disability that it’s not the end of the road. Through sports and other activities you can change the perception of the people about you. So get out there, the world is waiting for you.”
Doctors might say that you are 100% disabled. I on the other hand say, “No! I am capable and equally achievable. Because I am achieving my goals and I have achieved them in the past as well. So, just a certificate from the doctor cannot decide your fate.”
He says, “I am an educated man; I can easily earn good enough money for my survival. However, through these games I want to win medals, gain recognition just so that I can help other differently able people educate themselves and make them able to gain their livelihood. That is my biggest aim. And in achieving it, I want the support of Govt., at least with finances and infrastructure.”
Last but not the least, Shams Aalam believes that, “If I am able to achieve what I aim for, then if not this generation, at least the coming generation would benefit from it. Ultimately the nation would benefit from it.”