Gayatri Mahesh could have been stifled by stigma, but she decided to take pride in her son’s disability instead. Shashank Mahesh, a resident of Bengaluru, was diagnosed as an autistic child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) at the age of 4. His parents put him into swimming classes in the hope that his hyperactivity would come down, and it's a decision they have never regretted.
Shashank won three gold medals (100m freestyle, 50m freestyle and 50m backstroke) at the recently concluded 16th National Paraswimming Championship in Udaipur, and Gayatri couldn’t have been more proud as she spoke of her teenage son’s achievements.
Shashank has been swimming since the age of 7. His mother knew it was difficult for him to easily grasp instructions, which made it harder for her to coach him. Calling his coach, John Christopher, his actual mentor, Gayatri recounts how difficult it was for him to make Shashank understand the strokes and make him do them. To get him into water, to make him swim and follow instructions was another task.
These initial struggles paid rich dividends though, today Shashank is India's only S14-certified (disability swimming classification) paralympian swimmer.
Despite his achievements, he has not received any financial support from the State government except for receiving the prize money after winning a national. Be it for the Brazil paralympic qualification or any other event participation, his parents have spent lakhs from their own pocket to support him.
In 2013, he took part at the Special Olympics Bharat National Aquatic Championships selection camp, held in Mandya, and won 7 golds, 1 silver, and 1 bronze in different styles. In the same year he participated in the Para Nationals where he won a gold medal. Every year since then, he has been participating in the Para Nationals of swimming where he has been winning gold medals.
He participated in the Asian Para Games that took place in Incheon, South Korea, in 2014 where he went through the selection panel once again and was luckily confirmed as an international swimmer.
The following year in September, he went on to participate in the Global Games in Ecuador which is another IPC (International Paralympic Committee) competition. “He is very good with remembering dates. He even corrects me if I mess up his competition dates,” she admits.
“He wanted to be an engine driver but unfortunately you need an engineering degree for that,” says Gayatri.
A die-hard fan of Spiderman, Shashank always did well academically and recently appeared for his class 12 board examinations. Apart from sketching, his major interests are in trains and aircrafts. True to his interest, he wants to work in the railways in the future so that he can be near trains.