Perched on the river bank every morning, Radhakrishnan would spend days looking at children swimming in the Aluva manappuram, yearning to be one of them.
The 51-year-old, who was born with a disability of his right arm, however, was discouraged from venturing into the water since childhood.
On Wednesday, Radhakrishnan, a native of Aluva in Kerala, swam across the Periyar river, covering a distance of 600 meters. In the 21 minutes he took to cross the river, Radhakrishnan won many a heart.
As far as Radhakrishnan can remember, his family has always cautioned him against venturing into the river, fearing for his safety. But this never tampered his will.
"When I was young, I would go along with my friends when they went for a swim in a nearby river. I would sit on the bank and wait for them to finish. One day, they put me on the trunk of a banana tree so that I stay afloat, and pushed me around. That was the closest I got to swimming," Radhakrishnan recalls.
As he went on to become a senior clerk at Aluva Taluk office, Radhakrishnan refused to let go of his dream of being able to swim. He approached many swimming trainers in the district, and he was turned down by all of them, who cited his disability.
Until he met Saji Valassery, a trainer based in Aluva last year.
Radhakrishnan with trainer Saji
"I had in fact approached Saji to train my 16-year-old daughter. But after attending the class for a week, she fell ill. After this, she never went back to class," Radhakrishnan says.
His daughter discontinuing her swimming training sessions, however, did not prevent Radhakrishnan from going to the training spot every morning. When Saji refused to train him, Radhakrishnan held on to his perseverance.
It was Radhakrishnan's will to learn that made Saji Valassery take note of him and agree to train him, Saji tells The News Minute.
"At the time, I used to only train children, and training a disabled man like Radhakrishnan was out of the question. But then I saw this man sit on the bank of the river everyday, in anticipation that I would let him venture into the water. After a couple of days, I could not ignore him any more and budged," Saji remembers.
This was in May last year. Radhakrishnan attended class for nearly a week, but an accidental death of a man in the river mounted enough pressure on him to discontinue his training.
"At the time, I cannot claim that I learnt to swim properly. I barely managed to stay afloat, although I ended up drinking a lot of water. But then what the session did to my confidence level is immense. It made me shed the fear of being in the water," Radhakrishnan says.
Almost a year later, in February this year, Radhakrishnan's fortunes turned when trainer Saji decided to coach elders. Radhakrishnan was one among the 60-member team that began training on February 6.
After receiving training for a period of 21 days, it was time for trainer Saji to evaluate his student. If Radhakrishnan managed to stay afloat for an hour, he would get the assent from his trainer to swim across Periyar. Six days of rigorous training later, Radhakrishnan got the thumbs up he was looking for.
Having conquered his fears and his childhood dream, Radhakrishnan says, "A disability is not the end of the world, it opens up new possibilities. Nothing is impossible if one wants to do it.”