A Nepalese swimmer has smashed a National Record at the FINA World Championships just three months after she spent a month sleeping in a car, without any training, following the devastating Nepal Earthquake.
Sofia Gadegaard Shah, 17, a future Olympian, showed that she is the symbol of resilience on August 4, after she fought against all odds to storm to success in the swimming FINA World Championships, despite only training for less than two months.
Sofia, who is one of 20 swimmers on a year-long FINA scholarship at Thanyapura in Phuket, Thailand, arrived in Asia just one month after the earthquake – eager but noticeably shaken and suffering from the effects of the natural disaster after braving constant aftershocks.
When she arrived at Thanyapura, Sofia was admittedly unfit after not being able to train in Nepal following the earthquake because of the lack of training and coaching facilities. Now, two months later, with the help of world class coach Miguel Lopez, Sofia has beaten the Nepalese Women’s 200m Freestyle record with a time of 2.18.93 by under a second.
Speaking from Kazan, Russia – where the FINA World Championships are being held – she said: “Building up to race day, I felt that I was ready. Training with Miguel at Thanyapura since May has prepared me for that exact moment of stepping on to the blocks at the FINA World Championships here in Kazan.
Sofia continued: “Getting onto the blocks, I knew exactly how I had to swim this race. During my race I knew I had to focus on long and fast strokes – making sure to bring out my kick.
“After finishing my race, I felt as though I had just swum the best race I possibly could have at this time. I’m so happy to have swum a new national record but most importantly a new personal best time even after the earthquake. I feel that I have represented my country well! Jai Nepal!”
Proud Coach Miguel added: “After enduring the terrible earthquakes and its consequences in Nepal, sleeping in a car, and stopping her training regime for almost a month, and after the grueling workouts at Thanyapura, Sofia has demonstrated the type of resilience only the most pure and noble of materials have.
“Sofia has dropped over eight seconds from her best time this year, and this new National Record is only the reflection of the Olympic spirit and the values that represent FINA and the sporting world community.
“I could not be prouder of her and the FINA team as a whole, fighting united to bring honour to this programme.”
Sofia was chosen by the Nepalese Swimming Federation to get the chance to spend a year at Thanyapura preparing for the Rio Olympics 2016. She has received a wildcard entry into the 2015 FINA World Championships and the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“It is a really great honour to be chosen. We don’t have the facilities in Nepal to train and we can’t train year round and the coaching is not the greatest, so it was really exciting for me and my team mate Sirish to have this opportunity to train for a full year with great facilities and a great coach,” she added.
Her motivation to succeed here at Thanyapura is created from their opportunity to travel to Rio next year to swim in the Olympics.
“It’s the Olympics and that’s pretty amazing to have the opportunity itself to represent our country. It’s a dream for every sportsman to live the Olympic dream,” Sofia said.
“We went to ASEAN Games last year so we had a little taste of how amazing opening ceremonies are. Everyone cheers and you get to hold your country’s flag. It gives me chills just thinking about walking out on that stage in Rio.”
In the other races on August 4, Aminath Shajan missed the Women’s 200m Freestyle Maldives National Record by 0.2 seconds; and, in the Men’s 200m Butterfly, Sajan Prakash was just one second away from swimming India’s second fastest time ever.
Thanyapura’s swimming facilities include a 50m Olympic competition pool, a 25m training and teaching pool, Omega Track start blocks, a Daktronics timing system and scoreboard, an underwater video analysis window, ozone filtration and sports science services.