With the 2016 Olympic Games in the books, world class competitors are now turning their attention to the 2020 games in Tokyo. One such athlete is 14-year-old swimmer Jaahnavi Ramesh, a native of India who is trying to put her country on the map in a sport where success has been elusive for the nation of 1.25 billion.
Ramesh is currently training in Boothbay Harbor under the watchful eye of John Waldman, Maine swimming legend and founder of elite athletic consulting institute Fluid Mechanics. The pair have been a familiar site this past week at the Boothbay Region YMCA, where long hours, personal sacrifice, and dedication are the norm for competitive swimmers reaching for gold. Fluid Mechanics was founded in 1987 by Waldman, a renowned leader and visionary in competitive swimming instruction, and a former world-ranked swimmer and record-holder. Waldman was mentored throughout his career by Dr. James E. Counsilman — widely considered the most successful coach of all time — who has coached such swimming luminaries as Mark Spitz, Gary Hall Sr., Charles Hickcox and John Kinsella. At any given time, the company is training 300 swimmers here in America and internationally, said Waldman.
With a proven track record, Fluid Mechanics was a natural choice for Ramesh, who had the support of her entire family in India. Unfortunately, visa issues wouldn’t allow her parents to travel and the training was in limbo. After exhausting all other options, Waldman and his wife decided to have Ramesh move in with them at their home in Pennsylvania for her three-month training.
“When you see that many people trying to help this person, you know there is a reason,” said Waldman. “It’s not inexpensive, it’s time-consuming and she still wanted to come even if her family couldn’t. She’s become a member of our family.”
The desire needs to come from inside the swimmer, not the parents driving the swimmer, said Waldman. In fact, desire is the one intangible he looks for; the swimmers have to be ready to learn and able to absorb complex information via a proprietary training system called FM VisionWorks. The five-part plan addresses the mental, physical and emotional components of training and provides synergy.
“You have to swim in a star to be one,” said Waldman. “If you just work on one area, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to other swimmers. The athlete needs to be highly motivated, we are there to take motivated swimmers who need information. The athlete also needs to be receptive to the information.”
The Fluid Mechanics regimen is designed to instill core practices an individual can use throughout life to achieve success in or out of the water. The program also places a high value on character and representing one’s self or country to the highest possible degree. While not referencing disgraced U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte directly, Waldman believes athletes learn behavior at a young age.
“When our swimmers get in the spotlight, we want to make sure they are prepared for anything,” said Waldman. “They are representing themselves and their country.”
In 1983, Waldman was ranked eleventh in the world and he competed in the 1984 Olympic trials. He brings a lifetime of wisdom inside the pool but understands the often grueling life an athlete is willingly undertaking.
Over the three months, Ramesh will do 134, 1.5 hour sessions with Waldman. Her life is extremely structured and she balances academics, training and even a social life.
“I have friends and peers who I talk to,” said Ramesh. “It’s a lot of sacrifice but worth it.”
The training will continue when she returns to India, a country not known for its Olympic swimming prowess.
Despite the odds, however, Ramesh is confident her sacrifices will pay off. Her two main events are the 200m freestyle and backstroke. Besides the Olympics, Ramesh wants to attend college at the University of California Berkeley where her swimming idol, Missy Franklin, is a graduate. Her journey has already taken her from Southern India to Northern New Jersey and now the shores of Boothbay Harbor. While Olympic gold is the ultimate goal, she is already on her way to becoming a champion no matter where the currents take her.
“Jaahnavi does a phenomenal job representing her family and country,” said Waldman. “She has a chance to be a national hero.”