Rehan Poncha became the poster boy of Indian Swimming post his victorious representation at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. A former Olympian, Rehan is now moving the needle with his second innings as a golfer and aspires to represent India at the Olympics, again.
How did you start your swimming journey?
You would be surprised to know that I started swimming as a cure for my recurring bronchitis. I was suffering from low immunity and was advised to swim regularly to strengthen my lungs.
However, what was once a mere lung-strengthening exercise, churned the competitive streak in me. As a young kid, I was seeking excellence and the splash of the water inspired me so much that at the age of seven I committed myself to a career that spanned over two decades and several accolades.
Did bronchitis impact your swimming career?
It did not as I never let it. At the age of 16, I was further diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma and discovered that I had an allergic reaction to excessive chlorine (above the minimal amount).
My health conditions caused me to toughen up as a swimmer as I didn’t quit and stuck to my goals. So, it inspired me to be successful, in spite of the hurdles.
Has your career impacted your relationship with success and failure?
As a teenager, I was lucky to have experienced both success and failures, in a massive volume early on. To put it in perspective – I had a wall full of trophies and medals which I had won while representing India. This gave me a lot of confidence and I learned to thrive under pressure. But with the successes, came several defeats such as my failure to qualify for the 2004 Athens Olympics.
It was devastating but taught me how to focus on the bigger picture despite a crushing defeat. This spurred me to set a new goal known as the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
What has been the most important lesson that swimming has taught you?
I decided to call it quits and hang my boots or err, flippers, after missing the qualifying time at the 2004 Malaysian Open. However, my break was short-lived as I returned to practice for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
For this, I approached my mentor and now, National Swimming Coach, Pradeep Kumar to take on a four-year journey of preparation, trials, and triumph.
We would start preparations at 5:20 am and rigorously train throughout the day with minimum breaks. This cycle continued for four years – and at times, saw me swimming for over 90kms during the week. It was intense!
Amidst the never-ending days, the most important takeaway from my career is the need to persevere and remember that
Success doesn’t happen overnight. Success might take time but if you keep at your goals, it will be yours.
What inspired you to choose Golf as a Second Act?
As much as I love swimming, it’s an exhausting sport and this caused me to take an extended break in 2011. I was a competitive swimmer for over two decades and while I was ready for my break, I wasn’t ready to stop being an athlete. I look at sports as a way of understanding my potential and this made me look for my new challenge.
My eureka moment happened as I watched the film, The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005) and knew my next destination. I immediately picked up a golf club and haven’t looked back ever since. As of today, I spend between 6-8 hours at the golf course.
It’s hard to start all over again but as an athlete, my experiences have taught me to not only look for success but also to
Find joy in the process of learning, improving my craft and this understanding keeps me going.
Can you tell us about your Entrepreneurial Journey?
I conduct workshops called ‘Swim Smart with Rehan Poncha’, which focuses on skill sharpening techniques for young swimmers. My prime motivation to start Swim Smart was to empower aspiring swimmers and in turn, stay connected with swimming. This venture along with my collaborations and endorsements complete my entrepreneurial side.
With respect to Covid-19 and the #WFH scenario, what advice would you give to corporate professionals who are new to working in isolation?
My only advice to professionals would be to play to your strengths. I wouldn’t be a successful swimmer if I hadn’t played to my strengths or if my team such as my coach, nutritionist hadn’t played to theirs. It’s essential to trust each other’s expertise and work together towards the bigger picture. So,
While it’s important to maximise your strengths- remember to let your team members play to their strengths as well.
What’s your take on the future of health and fitness post the Pandemic Era?
I’m happy to say that due to social media, fitness has now become a primary part of most of our lives. The Internet is brimming with reliable trainers and varied workout options to choose from. The ease of access aids consistency in fitness and that’s important. With Cure.fit leading the Fitness Revolution, we are on our way to a fitter nation and that’s inspiring.