RECENTLY received an invitation to a wedding, which made me particularly happy. It was from Shikha Tandon – India’s highest achieving women’s swimming champion, with 146 national medals, many international medals, records, winner of the Arjuna Award who represented India in various Asian, Commonwealth Games as well as the Athens Olympics. The list goes on. Dedicated and committed, Shikha always had a game plan. Knowing a swimmer’s career is short, she studied Biotech from Jain University in Bangalore (her college besties include Pankaj Advani and Robin Uthappa) and completed a Masters in Biology from USA. She’s been there six years.
But what made me want to revisit her life was the glow in her wedding photos. Shikha married Shankar Iyer, whom she met through a common friend. Shankar works for a home automation firm in Palo Alto California, so both live in different states. And so they travel. “It helps that we both enjoy traveling and do quite a bit of it! In the US, outside of my work, I have a lot of free time to pursue my interests, whether reading, writing, photography, music or art,” she told me.
Far from fading into sporting oblivion, Shikha has powered on, currently working as Science Program Lead at the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) since August 2012 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A job she’s not at liberty to discuss too much. All she says is, “Throughout my swimming career, I have been an advocate for fair play in sport. There are multiple ways athletes can give back to their respective sports. I chose the route that also enabled me to use my science background to do my part to keep sports clean.” You go, girl.
Her life in the US is very different from her Bangalore swimming days. “I don’t swim competitively anymore – it’s a conflict of interest with my current role at USADA. Colorado is an outdoor person’s paradise. I make the most of it by hiking, running, or swimming to stay fit.”
The sport of swimming in India is growing, there are more opportunities to compete internationally, something she’s happy about. “Medals won at major international meets by senior swimmers are testament to efforts put in by the coaches, swimmers and parents. Many ex-swimmers are getting involved with coaching, motivational speaking, or sports management, and that’s encouraging.”
Of course, Shikha misses Bangalore and visits once a year. “Bangalore will always be home. Mumma and Papa are still there, so are many close friends. My trip home this time was especially memorable because of the wedding.” Pankaj danced at her sangeet as he had promised he would, and Robin came for the reception.
From the little girl who jumped into the pool when her mum took her asthmatic brother to swim and learnt to love it, right through the tough lonely championship years of over six hours practice daily and a Spartan regimen, to personal happiness and a meaningful giveback to her sport, Shikha Tandon has found her lane in life.