Dhinidhi Desinghu isn’t your regular teenager. The 2010-born swimmer doesn’t bother about “exploring” things in life and according to her coach is the “best at listening to instructions and implementing them.”
The 13-year-old describes herself as a complete introvert before adding, “Five years ago, if you had tried to speak to me, I wouldn’t have been able to talk to you.”
But the youngest Indian swimmer to participate in the Hangzhou Asian Games let her underwater skills do all the talking as she grabbed seven gold medals at the Campal Swimming Pool to stake a claim for the Best Women Athlete award at the 37th National Games being held in Goa.
Both Dhinidhi and her Karnataka teammate Nina Venkatesh had entered the last day of the swimming competition with five gold medals each and it was clear that whoever would bag the 100m freestyle crown would earn the record of winning maximum gold medals.
“Frankly, I didn’t come here thinking of any of this. I was just happy that I was getting to swim nine events here as I had got to swim only two events in the last National Games in Gujarat. I was just focused on giving my best and knew I would win some races if I could do that,” said the Bengaluru resident.
Dhinidhi lost out on medals in the 100m butterfly and 200m butterfly categories where she finished 7th and 4th respectively. Her seven gold medals came from 200m freestyle, 4x100 freestyle relay, 4x100 medley, 4x200 freestyle relay, 4x100 mixed relay and 100m freestyle.
“I couldn’t prepare well for the butterfly events this time and that showed in my results,” she added.
Dhinidhi’s coach at the Dolphin Aquatics Academy, Madhukumar BM, points out that meticulous preparation and routine are the bedrock of her success and that is what gives her the advantage even at this young age.
“She is competing against swimmers much older than her and winning is a big thing for us. She has natural strength and that helps. But there is still some way to go for her to be at her best and that is very encouraging to me as a coach,” he said.
Though swimming has become the focal point of Dhinidhi’s life now, no one thought about this day when her parents Desinghu and Jesitha Vijayan decided to enroll her in a swimming class near their residence hoping that their introverted daughter may end up making some friends.
“She was so scared that she refused to go to the class. Since we had already paid the money, I ended up learning swimming then,” said Jesitha, while explaining how she then slowly but surely got her daughter used to playing in the water.
Dhinidhi impressed her coaches with her ability to kick well and they encouraged the parents to start sending her to competitions. But even that was not so easy.
Jesitha explained, “Every time we would enter a tournament, she would either fall in the day before or start vomiting before the match and we would end up not participating as I didn’t want to force her."
“A few months later, we entered her in a tournament in Mangalore. We had not booked any prior tickets so she and I went there by bus. I have motion sickness and hence it was not a very good experience. Even there, Dhinidhi told me that she wasn’t going to compete. So, I just told her that we would see some races and go.
“But after spending some time around the pool, she showed interest in participating and won three gold there,” the mother added.
Dhinidhi then went on to win a gold and a couple of silver medals in the sub-junior nationals in 2019 and hasn’t looked back since then.
“In Rajkot, we were not even aware of the special swimsuits professional swimmers wore and other details but she won medals. Then we decided that we needed to invest in her career and shifted her to Dolphin Academy for better training,” her father Desinghu said.
Dhinidhi has been winning medals on the national level for a while now and said the experience of participating in the Asian Games was something special.
“Many top players in the Indian contingent wanted to meet and see who this youngest participant in the Games is. I got to meet Neeraj Chopra and PV Sindhu also,” she added.
The youngster is now focused on making her mark in the Asian Age Group meet which has been postponed to next year. But before that, she wants to take a break for a while and recharge.
When asked what she would be doing during the break, Dhinidhi responded: “Nothing special. I just want to go to school. I haven’t been able to do that for the whole year.”