Chandigarh: After beating adversity to become a champion swimmer, Rehan Poncha now wants to make it big in another sport - golf - hoping to play amateur qualifiers from next year before turning professional.
After having proved his mettle in the pool, the 28-year-old Poncha has been focusing on golf for the past two years.
Poncha wants to do what very few sportspersons have done -- become an Olympian in a completely new sport.
"I stopped competitive swimming two years ago, but I always always used to miss that competitive feeling, that rush of racing.
"I used to get very nervous, I used to get panic attacks, because for 20 years of my life I had one schedule. Now all of a sudden, it is like somebody turns off the switch and says now you are free, I enjoyed that for about a week or so, but then I had this feeling of emptiness and void," the Arjuna awardee told PTI here.
Having taken the plunge, Poncha hopes to play amateur qualifiers from next year.
"I don't want to rush, I can play amateur qualifiers now also because I have come up to 11 handicap. Nobody is rushing me, nobody is putting any kind of pressure on me. I am doing this for my own satisfaction.
"I have taken it up as a challenge, I want to do as well in golf as I did in the pool. This is my dream, I don't know if that will happen. I started at 26 but I know I have 20 years of sport experience in me. I just want it very badly (to do well at golf) and soon want to be a single handicap golfer, so that's my first step.
"Four years from now, may be I hope to turn professional after I have played enough on amateur circuit."
Asked how his passion for golf began, he revealed that someone from his family suggested that he should learn a new sport for the fun of it, and soon found himself in the thick of it.
"I just got addicted to it. It drove me mad," he said.
Initially, he trained at the Pune golf course, and for the last two years has been taking part in club tournaments, even winning some trophies.
Passionate about representing India, Poncha said that he had booked some sessions at the Butch Harmon School of Golf in Dubai to train under experts.
"In swimming, I waited till I was 16 to go abroad, but in golf, I immediately decided to train under the best," he said.
While he feels Tiger Woods is fantastic, Poncha is impressed with Rory Mcllroy and spend many hours watching him.
He also revealed that swimming happened by chance when he was a child.
"When I was about seven years old, I was a sick child and doctors advised me to get into pool. But soon I fell in love with the sport and after initially losing my two or three races I wanted to be the best," the Karnataka swimmer said.
He finances his golf training through funds raised at SwimSmart clinics across India, which are short format coaching clinics he conducts at the weekend. It is aimed at helping competitive swimmers through sessions that include elements of dry-land training, in-pool workouts and motivational talk.
Poncha also writes a blog on how to strengthen muscles specific to a particular stroke in swimming, besides giving valuable tips to the swimmers.
"I had the fortune of training with 8 or 9 coaches in India and abroad, so I have learnt so much in my 20 years of experience and so, I thought why not give it back (teach budding athletes). It is also helping me financially and I am able to support my golf."
When asked what he feels about swimming as a sport in India, he said, "Swimming in India, in general, is at so much better level."
Asked where does the country lack as it fails to churn out champion swimmers who would bring medals at Olympic level, he said, "I think our talent pooling system is very wrong, different people get into different sport for wrong reason and at the end of the day it also sadly boils down to money."
"There are 50,000 golfers playing golf and out of that you will get players like Anirban Lahiri, but if there are all of 300 swimmers in India into this sport seriously, you are not going to get talent. You need to have so many more kids," he pointed out.
Poncha also said that corporate sponsorship was very important to make young athletes help make a career choice in swimming.
"I think the corporates need to be shown that sportspersons other than cricketers also work very hard. Take a swimmer's life for example, it is so tough, we are in the pool freezing in the morning for two hours and you are back again in the evening. If kids, athletes are doing this, why not show them some silver lining.
"If a corporate can put up one banner for Rs 10 lakh in a golf tournament, then why not pick up a bunch of ten best athletes in swimming and other sport and then groom them and impart them best training. When there is a system in place, results will come. We need to have 10,000 swimmers in India then we will find our one Anirban or one Saina," he said.
Poncha is optimistic about India's swimming talent.
"I think we have four or five good talent, Sandeep Sejwal is a good breaststroker, then we have Aaron d'souza, Sajan Prakash, I think we have three or four boys who will probably be going to the Asian Games.
"So, I am sure they have another three or four years of swimming and hopefully, they would bring glory to our country internationally," he said.
With politicians dominating most sports bodies in the country, Poncha feels athletes who have played sport should also occupy important positions.
"You are not going to get rid of all politicians from all federations and have only athletes in their place as we may not have the administrative experience to do it or the skills required to put up a Nationals.
"But I feel important decisions should be made by the ahtletes who have lived that life and they will always think for the good of the athlete and they will have the knowledge and experience," he added.