Para Swimmer Shams Aalam’s journey of turning his disability into his abilities
Born to a family of sportsmen, for Shams, like he rightly says, sports are something that runs in his blood. If it weren’t for swimming, he would have been a karate champ or a cricketer, but he always knew that sports was always going to be his way of bringing glory to his country.
Shams, Growing Up:
Shams Aalam grew up in a small village in Bihar. Where there were ponds or lakes at every corner or as part of someone’s backyard. That is where everyone took a bath and did their daily rituals. The area was also flood prone and so swimming was something that every child in the village knew. Was almost mandatory for its dwellers. Shams as a child would swim across the longest lake there, stunning and putting to shame all the grown men by swimming across faster than anyone in the village.
When his family moved to Mumbai, from swimming, karate got his attention apart from the regular games they played at school as child. Shams had found his new passion in the form of Karate, in which he had gotten a black medal and was at the verge of entering the Nationals when something he had never accounted for in his wildest dreams changed his life completely.
Life Before Finding His New Ability:
Shams comes from a very humble background. He had always looked forward to a simple life where he went to college, got a job, got married and leading a life surrounded with his close ones and family. After getting his engineering degree and wining numerous awards in Karate, he got a sports scholarship with Satyabhama University where he got his MBA. When he came back to Mumbai, he worked for a company where things were going fine until one day he felt a tingling sensation in his toes whenever he walked. He started losing control over his bowel movements along with constant pain in his back. These things gradually started affecting his sport and his work. When he visited a doctor, he was told that he had a tumor in his spinal cord which is benign and that he did not have to worry after going through a procedure to remove the growth. Little did he know that the surgery or the growth would have been the least of his problems.
After the surgery, he had lost control of everything below his chest. The doctors still gave him hope. Told him that this was usual in such procedures and that he was going to regain all functions in a few months. But hope is also a vicious thing at times. By the end of 6 months and no improvement, it started dawning upon him that something wasn’t going right. And he was right. A second MRI revealed that the tumor was still there, or probably it was never removed. A second spinal surgery was the only option but it was too late to make things go back to normal. Sheer medical negligence cost him his one dream but did not stop him from pursuing another one.
The Fearless And Determined Shams:
The amount of depression and self-doubt along with recovery from a life-changing surgery was something that took a toll on him and his entire family. Imagine re-learning how to do to the things you did every day all over again. He later met someone who told him that swimming could help him with the functioning of his muscles and it is comparatively safer as the risk of not detecting an injury in their condition comes down. With him finding a new purpose to his life, his journey as a swimmer and a counselor for people like him blossomed into what it is today. He has now single-handedly managed to motivate other differently abled sportspersons to come out of their shell of depression.
Everything That He Achieved:
It was a proud moment for Shams Aalam Shaikh when he swam 8kms in 4 hours and 4 minutes, along the Sinquerim-Baga-Candolim sea in Goa. He now has over 40 gold medals. He took a challenge of the longest open sea swimming, as part of the Beach Fest in 2017. Shams is now gearing up for the 2018 Asian Games and is hoping to find the right coach for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Shams’s disability level came down from 100 percent (in 2012) to 72 percent in the latest assessment. He gives all the credit to his swimming passion that also helped him overcome depression and improve his mobility.
He has engraved his name in the World Record Academy in 2017, Limca Book of Records in 2016. He was awarded the Karn International award in 2016, Khel Samman by the Government of Bihar in 2017 and recently the Youth Icon Award in 2018 for his achievements.
With medals and awards piling up more than he can fit in his home, Shams is focused and driven towards winning glory for the country at the para-Olympics, but for him, the bigger picture for him is to make this world an inclusive and accessible place for paraplegic people like him. His aim is to get accessibility and acceptations for people like him. To provide equal opportunities for them because their dreams and aspirations in life are not very different from the rest of the world.