Ever since I was a baby, it has been extremely important to my parents that I play a sport. Both
of them used to be athletes themselves, as well as their parents– my mother and my maternal
grandfather used to swim and dive and my father and paternal grandfather used to sail. I tried a
range of sports – tennis, squash, football, sailing, badminton and swimming. Eventually I think
it came down to what felt most natural to me – being in the water. I’ve always said water runs in
my veins because of my family history with the pool and the sea and I picked what I felt most
At the age of six, I started swimming competitively. At the time, I was still sailing as well – a
part of me didn’t want to disappoint either parent by picking just one of their sports and
eventually I couldn’t find a way to fit both into my life. I picked swimming because the pool is
always where I’ve felt most at home, where anything I’m worrying about automatically drowns
itself away, where a bad day becomes so much better and where I am most myself.
Even though I picked swimming as my sport – it wasn’t always smooth sailing. My friends were
better and faster than me – I got used to coming in fifth and sixth place. Most of my friends
qualified for their first nationals at the age of ten and won gold medals. That same year, a
national coach told my mother to think of putting me in another sport because he didn’t think I
had what it takes to be a national level swimmer. Swimming was something that made me happy
and I wasn’t ready to give it up just yet.
Everybody’s body develops at a different rate – at the age of ten, I found that hard to
understand. My mother started reading up on how to use science to get me to where my friends
were and at the age of eleven, I missed qualifying for the nationals by 0.01 seconds. That day I
realized just how long a single 0.01 second is.
I have had a love hate relationship with 0.01 second since that day. All the time and effort I put
in to get to where I was, and it came down to a hundredth of a second. It represented the great
chasm between what I wanted and what I hadn’t got.
There is an infinite set of numbers in every minute. There’s 1.53, 1.535, 1.54 and so on and so
forth. But my life has been driven by a single number that separates all moments of life - 0.01
This number became my number one nemesis. It was the difference between nationals and
regionals, the difference between shattering records and just winning, the difference between
victory and defeat all because I touched the wall 0.01 second too late. It pushed me to do that one
extra workout, that one extra push up, that one extra practice start. Rather insidiously, this foe
became my friend. Every 0.01 second that I conquered in the pool became a moment to
celebrate. Millions of 0.01 seconds stitched together formed years of preparation and eventually,
at the age of twelve, I qualified for my first national championship.
Qualifying for my first national meet eventually turned into qualifying for my first national
final, getting my first national medal and eventually my first national gold. There are few things
as amazing as the feeling of standing on block before your race and hearing your name being
called followed by your state. There’s an immense sense of pride intertwined with nervousness
and excitement every time I think of that moment. It’s the moment I dreamed of since I started
competitively swimming – the moment I actually became established in the swimming world. It
was the day all the 5am wake ups, not being able to do all the things my friends were, and all the
extra work paid off.
Throughout my time of being a national athlete, I’ve had some of the biggest ups and downs.
Unfortunately, I am an extremely injury prone person and I started getting injured so much so
that my coach would say, “if Ari doesn’t get injured before we leave for the nationals she isn’t
going to perform well.” And it eventually became a running joke at my club. I’ve had to swim
national races with a broken elbow, a broken wrist and running 103-degree fever to give you
some examples. And yet, I refused to give up at any point because swimming has given me so
Swimming has given me a new family – my team. The people I would see day in and day out
and somehow never get tired of. Eventually, when it was time to leave for college – the pool and
my team were two of the hardest things to say goodbye to. My team has seen me at my best and
my worst, and vice versa for me with all of them, and because of that, we have the closest
relationship. To this day, teammates I trained with when I was nine and ten are still some of my
In 2016, I used my sport to support 5 NGOs by founding India’s first ever inter-school
Swimathon. The event saw 150 students from 7 different schools come together to raise $40,000
I also wanted to do my part to try and give something back to a sport that has given me so much
and so in 2018, I decided to write a booklet encasing everything I’d learned when I was
struggling to qualify for my first nationals.
The “The Young Athlete” is my labour of love, my swansong, and my way of helping budding
athletes in India. “She’ll never make it to the nationals, think of putting her in another sport” -
are words still haunt me, and I wondered how many children are written off even before their
talent has time to bloom.
“The Young Athlete” is a project very close to my heart because I don’t want any child to
experience the heartbreak that I felt. It serves to answer many questions they may have at the
start of their athletic journey. There is a particular focus on explaining how puberty and peak
height velocity affect athletic ability at a young age so early results are not a reflection of long-
term success or failure.
“The Young Athlete” took me six months to compile but covers years of painstaking research.
For years I have searched for ways to improve performance: nutrition, functional training,
optimal levels of vitamins and the importance of sleep. I realised that repetitive movements lead
to injuries like tendonitis and how difficult it is to train the small muscle below the scapula. I
learnt how to balance academic and social pressures while being an athlete.
Some incredible people helped me – coaches, doctors, fellow swimmers and sports medicine
specialists who shared valuable pieces of information that made the difference. All this
information is being passed on in the “The Young Athlete” to give back to the sporting
“The Young Athlete” started as an idea but today it is taking a life of its own. It has received
funding from one of India’s leading companies Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) that sponsors
the New York, Mumbai and Amsterdam Marathons for printing - validation that there is a need
for this kind of material for young athletes in India.
Life is about experiences and I want to have as many as I can. But like most athletes, for me,
time is always a challenge. When I truly appreciated that 0.01 second is a very long time and I
have a multitude of them, I realized just how much time I really have.
The two biggest lessons my friend 0.01 second has taught me serve me well every day. Failure
comes in 0.01 second but the very next 0.01 moment is an opportunity to try again. Success also
comes in 0.01 second but only hard work ensures continuous success.
My life so far has been a series of exciting adventures of 0.01 seconds. I have found the way to
grab life with both hands and love it because like taking the perfect picture, the devil is in the
Although I no longer swim competitively because I have decided to focus more on my
academics in college, swimming made me the person I am today. All the wins, the losses, the
good times, the bad times, and everything in between. Swimming taught me the importance of
sportsmanship, what it’s like to work in a team, to never give up no matter how bad things seem
and nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it.