Mohammad “Shams Aalam” Shaikh; para swimmer has his sights set on the 2018 Asian Para Games. We have every confidence that Shams Aalam will be the emerging winner at this upcoming para event. Why are we so sure? In 2014, Shams set a world record and he holds a title in the Limca Book of World Records for the longest open sea swimming by a paraplegic in which he covered eight kilometers (4.97 miles) in a four hour and four minute time span in the open seas of Goa. But that is not the only amazing fact of his life that Shams shared with RL.
Shams was born on July 17, 1986 in Rathaus Village of Madhubani District of Bihar, the youngest of six children. At the age of six the family relocated to Mumbai in order to afford the children educational opportunities. Mumbai is a city known to be the home to the highest number of millionaires & billionaires of India. However, Shams’ family was not financially sound. They relied solely upon his father; Mohammad Nasir, who earned a living as a farmer to support the household. He speaks lovingly of his 82 year old father who is in excellent health and is as active as any 62 year old. He attributes his father’s wellness to an active farming lifestyle and refers to his golden-haired mother; Shakeela Khatoon as the prettiest woman he has ever seen and likens her to an angel. Both parents have always been supportive of his sporting activities and his mother motivated him with inspirational stories of her own father’s achievements as a famous wrestler in Bihar, West Bengal and Nepal.
As a young boy Shams was always excited to participate in sports such as swimming, cricket, fishing, tipcat ( and wrestling. His mother told him stories of the times when he was only 2 years old and would swim in the pond in front of his house and people would stand at the edge of the pond to cheer him on and applaud for him. He heard them clap and it motivated him further. Spectators were amazed that a child exhibited such passion and enthusiasm. Shams says that he swam for fun and never thought that this activity would prepare him for the skills he would need to prove himself in the future and to make his country proud on an international platform.
At the age of 14, Shams began to study the Shito Ryu style of karate, which only seems natural since he was a huge fan of Bruce Lee. Under the guidance of Sensai Umesh Murkar, Shams completed his black belt in 2008 and has won more than 50 medals at District, State, National and International level championships.
Not only did Shams excel in sporting activities, but he also excelled in academics. In 2010, Shams earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Mumbai University. In 2017, he earned another masters degree in Business Administration from Sathyabama University.
It is important to note that in the time span between 2010 and 2017, while Shams was focusing on academic excellence, he was also recovering from a spinal cord injury that rendered him paralyzed from the chest down. The diagnosis of a benign tumor on his spinal cord and a subsequent failed surgical procedure to remove the tumor was a health event that devastated the entire family. His hopes were temporarily shattered but with faith and the love and support of his family Shams began to view his situation as a unique opportunity to become a change maker. In 2015, Shams founded the Para Sports Association Mumbai and organized Maharashtra state’s first Para Games.
Shams entry into the world of living with a disability has not finished him; it has started something new. His experience is igniting a fire within him to bring about awareness of the non-existence of inclusion for people living with disabilities in India. Shams speaks often about the power of adaptive sports and its ability to effect change in individual lives, communities and across the world.
Due to Shams’ activism efforts to promote awareness, he was selected to participate in a mentorship program of the Global Sports Mentoring Program. The GSMP builds on the U.S. Department of State’s commitment to empowering underserved communities worldwide through sports, the Global Sports Mentoring Program combines mentorship and cultural exchange to connect more than 130 changemakers on a mission to positively impact their societies. The initiative is comprised of two pillars: GSMP: Empower Women through Sports and GSMP: Sport for Community. Since 2012, alumni from 67 countries have participated in the program, forming an international network of leaders, athletes, coaches, educators, and advocates promoting equality and inclusion. Shams’ mentor-match was Doug Garner; Asst. Director – Campus Recreation for Adapted Sports, University of Texas-Arlington. Doug Garner is one of the nation’s leading advocates for students with disabilities, injured service veterans and members of the community who face disability. On top of his role as assistant director of adaptive sports, Doug is also the longtime head coach of the highly successful UTA men’s wheelchair basketball team. He oversees 28 athletes in four different adaptive sports. In 2015, he was named a Champion of Change by The White House.
Shams is extremely grateful to the GSMP for the opportunity to learn from established and well known experts like Doug Garner that will partner with him to create a strategic plan that he can implement upon his return to India.
Shams feels blessed to live two lives in one span and is thankful to the almighty for choosing him to do things that an able-bodied person is unable to do to bring about societal change.
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