It was in the winter of 2004 when Rehan Poncha had decided to quit what he did best. At 18, with four junior national titles and a handful of international medals at the Asian Age Group meets and SAF Games, the Parsi-born Bangalore lad wanted to give up swimming after he had failed to qualify in the 200m butterfly event for the Athens Olympics by 02.3 seconds.
"I had stopped enjoying swimming and I felt stuck. It was the worst phase of my life and every day was a mental battle as I could not improve my timings," Poncha told DNA.
Today, the 23-year-old Arjuna awardee is the most successful Indian swimmer with three senior national titles, and twice a winner of the best sportsperson award at the National Games. The Olympian is also the proud owner of over 25 international medals.
"Five years back, my only aim was to enjoy swimming. I cannot believe that I have actually been able to achieve all that I have since then," said an emotional Poncha who was adjudged the best swimmer at the recently-concluded senior national championship in Thiruvananthapuram.
Poncha, who was training under Nihar Ameen at KC Reddy Swim Centre, decided to move to Basavangudi Aquatic Centre and train under national coach Pradeep S Kumar. Two years later, Poncha won his first senior national title dethroning Arjun Muralidharan of Indian Police who had dominated Indian swimming in the men’s category.
"I credit my success to the staff at BAC and Pradeep sir who has encouraged me during my toughest days," said the senior national champion who completes his fifth year at BAC.
Though Poncha defended his title in 2008 Hyderabad nationals, he says the championship he won this year means more to him. He eclipsed five senior national records in his five individual events to win the title. Poncha also defeated Arjun in the 200m butterfly for the first time and also claimed the gold in the 100m butterfly.
"I had lost to Arjun in the last four years. I have worked three times more than what I have in the past to get this kind of result at the nationals and it feels good. Although at the end of the day, I still feel I have not achieved what I was really looking for," says Poncha.
The Olympian, who clocked 2:00.70 secs in the 200m butterfly at the Asian Age Group meet in Japan this year, has been aiming to go sub-two minutes in the event. "I had targeted to go below two minutes. With my current timing I would have been placed in the top eight at the previous Asian Games but I am not happy with that. My target is to clock 1:56 by next year’s Asian Games," he said. Poncha, who is pursuing his MSc, is awaiting the sports ministry’s clearance to train in the USA from December onwards.
With his toughest days behind him, Poncha is optimistic about swimming for the country up to the 2012 Games.