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Swimmer Divya Satija On The Power Of Taking Failure In Your Stride

Swimmer Divya Satija On The Power Of Taking Failure In Your Stride

Making a decision to take up swimming as a full-time career isn’t easy, especially in a country like India. It requires hours of training, plenty of determination and tonnes of patience—and yet, there is no guarantee of a payoff. But swimming athlete Divya Satija decided to take the bold step in 2016, all thanks to her family’s support. On paper, her life was going very well—she was studying M.Com at one of the best colleges in India while working at a top corporate firm. But she could no longer juggle her job and studies with swimming, and realised it was time to pick one. So Divya quit her job, dropped out of her master’s programme and decided to finally chase her dreams.

And chase them she did! The year she decided to be a professional swimming athlete was the year she won her first national medal. Two years later, she was raising the Indian flag at International events, breaking national records and winning several medals. In 2019,  she bagged two gold medals at the Senior National Aquatic Championship and qualified for the Asian Championship.


But it is not all about glory and victory—Divya trains long and hard, and doesn’t always return home with a medal. What keeps her going? “Visualisation is something I have been practising since childhood. I believe that if I can see, I can achieve. Besides that, you need to believe in yourself and stay positive,” she says.

The most inspiring thing about Divya is not how many accolades she’s won, but how she takes failure in her stride. She feels losing is a ‘blessing in disguise’ and believes it pushes her towards better performances. Her mantra? Success isn’t about how high you go, it’s about how you bounce back whenever you fall. At the age of 25, she has achieved what many can only dream of, and we are thrilled to feature her on our Women Who Win series. In a candid conversation with POPxo, she tells us about her training routine, the essentials we’ll always find in her swimming bag and her biggest dream as an athlete. Lightly edited excerpts below:

How do you begin your day? What does a typical day look like for you?

With a 5 am wake-up call, my day starts with deep breathing and focusing on improving lungs capacity. Then I prepare a pre-workout snack, mostly oats with milk and imagine what my day would look like. Before I know it, I realise I have spent too much time imagining, so I rush to pack my swimming bag. I do my shoulder stability exercises to prepare myself for the swimming workout, and then I drive to the training academy at 6:30. Swimming training starts at 7:00 am and ends around 9:00 am. I then go home, prepare a healthy breakfast, eat and rest for half an hour. I head back to the training academy for dryland training from 11:00 am to 12 pm. As soon as I finish my afternoon session, I come back home, prepare lunch, eat and rest so I am recovered for my evening session at 4 pm. After my evening swim, I come back and unpack my bag, do stretching and foam rolling, prepare my dinner and I’m in bed by 9:00 pm.

Please tell us about your training routine.

My week usually looks like this: 

-Morning swim 7 am to 9 am (Monday to Saturday)

-Evening swim 4 pm to 6 pm (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday)

-I go to the gym from 11 am-12 pm every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday

-I have recovery sessions like massage and cryotherapy on Wednesdays and Saturdays

What would you say has been a turning point in your career?

When I decided to take risk of quitting my job and pursuing what I love and enjoy the most.

Let’s rewind a little. When did you first realise you wanted to pursue swimming as a career?

After completing my under graduation in 2016, things got a little tricky for me. I had enrolled for  M.Com at one of the best colleges in India and I was working at a top corporate firm. In addition to that, I wasn’t able to quit swimming—so managing these three things together was a big task. When I participated in the 2016 Senior Nationals, I came 4th in 100m butterfly and lost the bronze medal by 2 microseconds. After that competition, I realised it’s high time I chose what I want to do—I can’t manage to float in three boats together. That was the turning point in my life, when I realised swimming is what I want to pursue as a career. I quit my job, dropped out of my master’s and shifted to Bangalore for my training. The year I took up swimming as a profession, I won my first national medal with an Indian record.

In India, a career in swimming is a pretty non-conventional choice. What challenges have you faced?

I agree that a career in Indian swimming is non-conventional, but I have been lucky enough to be born into a family that always supported me. My parents were always there for me in all my decisions, from quitting my job, dropping out of my master’s and taking up swimming as my profession.

What would you say has been your biggest professional accomplishment?

2019 was the best year for me as I finally got the opportunity to represent India—it was a dream come true moment! I bagged two gold medals at the Senior Nationals by breaking my record again, qualifying for the Asian Championship. Wearing the Indian jersey and holding the Indian flag was the ultimate dream—and that dream of representing my country was now a reality. It was one of the biggest moments of my career. For the first time, I had no room for pressure, as I was too excited to represent India. At the 10th Asian Age Group Swimming Championship, I was the only Indian who broke the national record and won 3 silver medals and a bronze.

The Asian Championship taught me to enjoy the moment and trust my preparations. As I won silver and bronze at the championship, the feeling of the tricolour going up and hearing the national anthem was amazing. I was lucky enough to get another chance to represent India at the South Asian Games. There, I achieved a ‘golden’ performance—by winning 4 gold medals and creating a new Indian record at all four events. The satisfaction of watching my national flag being raised was unbeatable.

Do you believe that there are certain skills or qualities that have helped you succeed as an athlete?

Visualisation is something I have been practising since childhood. I believe if I can see, I can achieve. Besides that, you need to believe in yourself and stay positive.

What is that mantra that you swear by in your professional and/or personal life?

Success isn’t about how high you go, it’s about how you bounce back whenever you fall.

Any advice for young people looking to make a career in sports?

I would like to pass on the same advice my dad gave to me when I was upset after not winning any medal at the Senior Nationals. He showed me a video of a cricketer who wasn’t able to hit a ball, one after the other. But all of the sudden, when he got a shot it was a six. He told me that you never know whether you are winning a medal, but when you will win it might be an Indian record! However, you need to make sure you have to be on the ground. You will get N number of opportunities your entire life, you just need to make sure you are present on the ground—you never know when you hit a six!

Being an athlete requires as much mental strength as physical stamina. How do you keep yourself motivated?

I visualise what I want to be and what I want to achieve. I also use self-talk.

In sports, you win some and you lose some. How do you deal with failure?

Losing is always a blessing in disguise—it’s a start towards much better performances. I go by a quote: success isn’t about how high you go it’s about how you bounce back whenever you fall.

Tell us about your biggest dream as an athlete?

To hear the national anthem standing on the victory stand! And to be the first Indian woman to win a medal at the Asian Games.

Tell us about some of the training essentials that are always in your bag?

As a swimmer, I need to carry a lot of things in my bag! These include:

-My Training suit                                                       
-A banana                                                                 
-A water bottle.                                 
-Hand paddles
-Pull boy

Considering that you have a packed schedule, how do you unwind?

At the end of the day when I have some time left, I prefer reading motivational books or watching motivational videos on YouTube, so that I sleep with good thoughts.

Can you tell us three books that changed your life?

You Can Win by Shiv Khera

No Limits by Mukesh Bansal

The Champion’s Mind by Jim Afremow

13 May 2021

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