Young swimmer Apeksha Fernandez sets her eyes on the Asian Games medal next year
After qualifying for the 200m Butterfly summit event, Fernandes became the first Indian female to reach the World Junior finals recently. Despite the fact that she was unsuccessful in earning a medal this time, she believes this can serve as a model for female swimmers in the future.
"It feels like a great achievement. I was super excited to be a part of the finals at such a big platform. The thrill of the meet was definitely there and it was exciting to compete with the world's best," Apeksha Fernandes told The Bridge.
Apeksha expressed herself maturely when she stated, "I got to be the first girl (to qualify for the final) and I know that there will be younger swimmers who will be coming up and taking India to the finals quite often." One might argue that the 17-year-old became famous overnight after setting five "Best Indian Time" records in a row at the National Juniors a few months ago.
With each subsequent race, Apeksha has maintained her streak of breaking her own records. The child's thoughts aren't constantly focused on these "Best Indian" periods, though.
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"I don't label my best timings as the best India timing, for myself at least. I just go with the mindset of bettering my own performances," Fernandes said.
In contrast to Prasanta Karmakar, an Indian swimmer in good physical health has yet to win medals for the nation in the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
We have a group of young swimmers, including Vedaant Madhavan, Aneesh Gowda, Aryan Nehra, Ridhima Veerendrakumar, Sambhav Rao, and Fernandes, who may very well win that medal that looks so far away.
"Surely the new swimmers will come in and win medals in the future. But for now, we are still trying to get a podium finish," said a hopeful Apeksha.
"I still don't know because we put in the same hours as the other athletes. They might work a bit more, but the amount of workload we have is quite similar. It could be the team that works together. Their coaches, physios, and nutritionists work together. Here, all three are separated. Maybe this can be the reason," She made a statement on why India hasn't yet achieved great success.
"My current coach, Dr. Reddy, used to be my brother's tennis coach. During IIT Bombay's annual summer camp, it was Dr. Reddy, who was the swimming coach as well, who told me to give up tennis for swimming. That's how I got into the sport," Apeksha recalled.
Whether Apeksha is outdoors or inside the pool, Mohan Reddy is still a significant part of her life. Fernandes is correct to attribute her success on him. "He (Reddy) has seen me as a baby! I'm like a second daughter to him and our relationship is very close. He pushes us to be better and gives us the freedom to do what we want. Moreover, he puts academics in pole position. With my performance, his coaching really speaks," said a proud student in Apeksha.
Dr. Reddy was unable to go with the 200m butterfly finalist to Lima for the world juniors, which the swimmer believes may have caused her performance to suffer. "I couldn't train with my coach in the few days leading up to the tournament. If I could have done so, I feel my swims would have been much better."
Apeksha, a smart and articulate adolescent, perked up when questioned about her interests and activities outside of swimming and cutting through the water with her strokes.
Fernandes is a voracious reader who consumes 170 books annually. The swimming sensation enjoys exploring the outdoors in addition to being a bibliophile and occasionally playing badminton and tennis with her family.
"I love bird-watching during the monsoon and definitely search for mushrooms outside. That is something my father and I used to do when I was a kid, and we have continued the tradition," a jovial Apeksha said.
The class eleven student who plans to major in biotechnology in college has it all figured out when it comes to schooling. "I want to balance both (swimming and studies). I am on the lookout for universities that can help me balance both. Countries like the USA, Canada, and Australia have such programs that give this option to students."
Due to her studies, Apeksha will not be competing in the National Games later this month, but she is still debating whether or not to attend the current National championships in Guwahati.
"Even before the world juniors, I was experiencing slight discomfort in my lower back, which worsened with all the travel and standing in the airports. We'll take the doctor's opinion and see how I feel, and then we'll see," she said.
Apeksha is an adolescent swimmer who aspires to follow in the footsteps of Olympic and World Championship gold medalists Lydia Jacoby of the USA and Summer McIntosh of Canada.
"The biggest meet next year is the Asian Games which is a goal I have in mind. I would definitely aim to win a medal there, but I will have to train accordingly. That's a short-term goal as I'm putting all my focus on the Asiad. After that, we'll plan ahead," Fernandes concluded.