'I started as a junior in the team, now I am the senior most. This is something I am really proud of. In 2006, I would not have thought I would last this long and go on to become an icon in Indian swimming.'
He could not stand on the podium in his fourth Asian Games appearance but former bronze medallist Virdhawal Khade never thought his swimming journey "would last this long".
The 32-year-old Khade competed in the 50m freestyle and 50m butterfly events at the Hangzhou Asian Games, finishing 5th and 7th respectively in his heats.
He had won a rare Asian Games bronze medal in 2010 in 50m butterfly while missing out on a podium finish by narrow margin in the men's 50m freestyle final in 2018.
"This is my fourth Asian Games. My first was in 2006 Doha where I was a teen. In 2010 Guangzhou, I won a bronze. And in 2018 Jakarta, I just missed out on a medal," Khade said.
"I started as a junior in the team, now I am the senior most. This is something I am really proud of. In 2006, I would not have thought I would last this long and go on to become an icon in Indian swimming."
There was a break in his career after 2012.
"After 2012, I started working with the state government, finding time to train was really difficult. From 2012 to 2018, I must have only two years of good training and that was six years back.
"In a sport like swimming, that makes a big difference. I had to cut out on my events, to focus only on 50m. There were a lot of hurdles in my way. Despite all that, I could train hard and come back to that level.
"A medal would have been great but I was very proud of myself that I could make it happen. 2018 was the fastest year of my life, I got my best time in 50m freestyle and butterfly. I was pretty fast in the 100m freestyle as well. But not having a medal made me a better and tougher person."
Khade, who had thought about quitting the sport during the COVID-19 lockdown, opted to train without a coach earlier this year but found it tough.
"I coach myself. It is very different. Earlier this year, when I started doing it, trying to do practice myself, it was very difficult because it so happens that you can't push yourself.
"Every time I wrote down a workout it turned out to be the easiest work-out which can be very easily achieved. A couple of months later I said it is not going to work out."
He then asked a friend in Mumbai to prepare his work-outs.
"So my best friend who is coaching me right now is Manikumar in Mumbai. I sat with him and I said these are my plans and you need to help me achieve these.
"For him also, it was a big task because coaching a very senior swimmer, not too many coaches in India have that experience and especially at this level. So I told him this is what my body needs. He was the one who was writing the work outs for me.
Khade felt Indian swimming "is going fast enough" and improving.
"Swimming is where good things take a lot of time to happen. Looking back to 2005, it just seemed like different days. At that time, 53 seconds was the national record in 100m. Now we have at least 20 people faster than that. That definitely to me is a big improvement.
"The female swimmers need to catch up a bit, we need to do more. Luckily, we have a few girls who made it to the team of the Asian Games which is the first time since 2006. So girls need more help."