International Women’s Day is observed every year on March 8 to celebrate the women’s achievements. It is also the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace. Although it is a long road to gender equality, women have come a long way and today we have so many women achievers and role models. One of the young achievers is Aditi Dhumatkar, the fastest female swimmer in India and Team Speedo Athlete India. Here’s what she has to say about swimming and how it made her the woman she is today.

The year was 2012, I had been diagnosed with Malaria for the second time and simultaneously ended up with chicken pox. For the first time in my life, I was forced to take a break from swimming, don’t get me wrong, I took a lot of breaks on my own, but this was the first time I wanted to train and I just physically couldn’t.

During my road to recovery, I would often swim in front of a mirror, I know that sounds weird, but it’s just that I missed swimming so much that even doing freestyle in the air made me feel better. I think that was the first time I realized the importance of swimming keeping me healthy in the mind as well as the body.

It’s a well-known fact that swimming is one of the safest exercises for the body. It’s also one of the best whole body workouts that one can do. It’s also a high-calorie burning activity. While any form of physical exercise releases endorphins, which in turn elevate your mood and help you feel better, my choice of exercise to do the same is swimming.

I have been swimming since I was 3 years old, and I would be lying if I said it hasn’t made me the person I am today. Swimming has not only helped me have a healthy and fit body, it has also helped me stay fit and healthy in the mind. I can say so, because since childhood it has instilled a sense of discipline in my life, making me realize the value of time. I would have to truly emphasize on the fact that understanding the value of living a disciplined life has helped me achieve so much more than my swimming goals.

Coming from a family of people with asthma, it was a given that it had been passed on to me too. Since I was swimming from a young age, it honestly never affected me as much as it affected other kids my age with asthma. This was because swimming prepared my lungs to deal with my illness. Today, I’m a sprinter and when I race, I barely take 2-3 breaths in a 50 mts race, when people see me pull out my inhaler on a tough day, most of them are surprised that I suffer from asthma. The truth is, I don’t suffer from it, I only deal with it on the bare minimum.

I was never a champion in the start, in fact when I started competing, I would’ve even placed in the top 8 in Mumbai. Over the years, overcoming a lot of challenges and working extremely hard, I made it to the top of the country, but the truth is, in my life, swimming taught me how to deal with defeat from a very young age. I was so young that it didn’t even matter back then, in fact, I would race just because I enjoyed it. Looking back 20 years, I realize that it prepared me to face so many other adversities in life, whether I knew that win or lose, it doesn’t matter as long as you chose to be happy.

I don’t just say this because I’m biased, but scientifically swimming has been proven to reduce stress and help with anxiety. I often enjoy being underwater because it brings in a sense of calm. The silence lets me be alone with my own mind. To me, it’s extremely therapeutic as it allows me to focus better and align my own thoughts.

People often ask me, “Will you ever stop swimming?” The answer to that is, “Hell No!” The truth is, at some point my body will compel me to stop competing at the national level, but my mind will never let me part ways with the one thing that has made me who I am. Anyone reading this, feeling lazy to get in some form of exercise, go to the pool and listen to Dory from Finding Nemo and “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!”