#002: Ankur Poseria

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

Sometimes to get what you want the most, you have to be willing to sacrifice your own dreams to help others first.

With his eye on qualifying for the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, Ankur kept coming up short by not being able to hit the qualifying time in his event, the 100M Butterfly.  It wasn't until he began to help his friends and family work their way through their own personal challenges that he found a renewed strength to achieve the impossible.

A 2008 Beijing Olympian, Ankur Poseria completed an international swimming career which saw him break multiple school records at the University of Southern California, as well as the Indian National Record in his main event, the 100m butterfly. 

Ankur has applied lessons from the swimming pool to his professional pursuits.  With post-college plans to enlist with the CIA and work his way into becoming a field operative, Ankur jammed the brakes on that idea after a surprising talk with a mentor in the intelligence community.  Instead, Ankur pursued stories about international affairs in his backyard, Hollywood.  

Starting out handling Producer duties for music industry clients including Capitol Records and Interscope, Ankur then worked with Oscar-winning Producer Nicolas Chartier (THE HURT LOCKER) on international film marketing and eventually produced documentary stories about ethnic tribes in Western China for National Geographic. Ankur transitioned into digital media technology doing time at Amazon Studios, Walt Disney Online, and Sony Pictures Digital. Ankur is now pursuing stories which build human compassion and understanding as a documentary and scripted producer and director.

Ankur Poseria

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Transcribed Episode

Unknown Speaker  0:00  

You're listening to the groove with Devin PENSE.

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You have to take risks

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that will be disappointments and failures and disasters. As a result of taking these risks, this task was acquainted to you. And if you do not find a way

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great moments are born. Great opportunity.

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That's what you have here. In the end. That's all we really are just stories. Stories are what our lives are made up of stories how we remember people and stories make us feel a little less alone in the world.

Unknown Speaker  0:42  

Hello, everyone. This is Devin PENSE, and welcome to another episode of the groove podcast where I bring you interviews with people who have experienced great loss or failure and the pivotal moments that changed the course of history in their lives. My guest today is encore Syria. Encore is an Olympian he swam in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He broke multiple school records while attending the University of California, as well as the Indian National record in his main event, the hundred meter butterfly. In addition to his successes in the pool encore as an expert in international affairs, he has held senior level positions in digital media technology at Amazon Studios, Walt Disney online and Sony Pictures digital. He's produced projects for music industry clients, including Capitol Records and Interscope and documentary stories about ethnic tribes in western China for National Geographic. Currently, encore is pursuing stories which build human compassion and understanding as a documentarian, and scripted producer and director. He's also an amazing photographer, and you can check out some of his work on Instagram at encore bus area. That's a NKU our POS er ay ay ay ay ay ay, encore. Welcome to the show. Thank you. We have some cool things to talk about today, but before we get started, I thought we could talk about how we met. Yeah. And we actually met on Craigslist.

Unknown Speaker  2:08  

That's right. We didn't meet on Craigslist,

Unknown Speaker  2:09  

anything goes on Craigslist. You never know how it's gonna go. Most of the time. It's like, here's the item, Here's your money. Have a good one. And within minutes, I find out you're an Olympian. So I just think it's interesting that you know, we met on Craigslist.

Unknown Speaker  2:24  

Yeah, man. It's it's sometimes I've met some of my most interesting connections here in Los Angeles on Craigslist of all places.

Unknown Speaker  2:32  

Yeah, I mean, it's true and it's it's so interesting because in the time that we live there's really no limits to the amount of different people that you have the opportunity to meet totally and back in the day it was like your friends at school or some you know people at work or whatever. But now all that's changed.

Unknown Speaker  2:51  

Yeah, to that point to you know, it's it's interesting. There are some people have never actually physically met in person, but somehow have incredible dialogue with them through common interest groups online. And chatting and that sort of thing. And I look forward to doing it someday there somewhere on the other side of the planet in some cases. And it's interesting.

Unknown Speaker  3:09  

Yeah, I one of my sons is a gamer. And he has been playing with the same group of people from all over the world for years. And I would dare say that he knows them better than he may know someone that he sees on a day to day basis.

Unknown Speaker  3:25  


Unknown Speaker  3:26  

definitely. So let's hop into the episode, you have such a diverse background. Unfortunately, we won't be able to get to all of it today. We'll have to do that on another show. But I want to focus on your Olympic journey. But looking at yours. I find it very interesting because you are an American citizen, but you swam for India. You know, I want to talk about the challenges that you faced going through that in the struggles that sort of put you in a position of kind of questioning your identity. So let's just get right into it.

Unknown Speaker  3:57  

Yeah, so I represented India. You know, Both sides of my family are Indian culturally, I grew up in an Indian household and Indian community when I was probably 13 1213 years old. I just went to watch a World Championships because it happened to be close by in Indianapolis. I grew up in Ohio, so it was just maybe five hours away. And while I was there in the lobby, I met the head coach of the Indian National Team. And he just came straight up to me said, Are you Indian? I said, Yeah. And he's, you know, asked me a couple more questions, do you swim? What events you know, this sort of thing. And he actually gave me one of the athlete passes to go backstage with him and said with the Indian National Team at the World Championships, I mean, yeah,

Unknown Speaker  4:39  

that just seems a little bit rare. It is a coach, just walk up to a little kid and say, Hey, are you Indian? Yeah, come back and join us. He wouldn't do that in India, of course, this

Unknown Speaker  4:51  

but yes, being being abroad. It's especially the athletic community at large. There's very little Indian representation. So whenever you see someone Indian, an athletic competition your eyes and ears kind of perk up like oh, who is he is he like competing for something training for something big? You know, there's a connection there. So anyway, he took me back back to the the athletes sitting and spent time getting to know the athletes, some of whom are great friends of mine now. And you just kind of gave me his card and said, when you qualify for the Olympics, get in touch. I mean, that's a pretty bold statement that had to set you back a little bit, right? It did, especially because at that time, I was not, that was not something I was thinking about at all. I was just hoping to be, you know, maybe captain of my high school swim team that that would have been an incredible accomplishment for me. So I just kind of laughed it off and said, okay, cool, nice to meet you. But as I was laughing, of course, you know, planted the seed in my mind, you know, and that was so many years ago that okay, is this actually possible? Is this something that that I can actually attain and

Unknown Speaker  6:00  

He was the first in a string of a couple of few very, very important people in my life that gave me that belief to really push myself to that level. You know, I call those types of people sowers, and they are very important people on our planet because they're aware enough about what's going on around them to be sensitive enough to drop seeds into people's lives. And here this coach, you know, has a ton of responsibility. And he sees this young man you know, looking on I'm sure with with eager eyes, and had he not put that thought into your mind. You may never even thought of going to the Olympics. So you may never even have had those thoughts as you said,

Unknown Speaker  6:45  

yeah. I and maybe this is the nature of being an excellent coach. right as you see potential and everyone it would be that maybe that's just that just comes with the territory, you know, because I have noticed it in Some of the other excellent coaches I've either trained with, or I've observed from a distance that they believe they just absolutely believe that that's something is possible, especially when you're young. And so yeah, I, you know, just made it a goal of mine a realistic goal of mine to swim in college. And so I, you know, went through the whole rigmarole of applying to schools, sending them my recruiting information and contacting coaches and stuff. And I was fortunate enough to get recruiting visits at Indiana, Yale, and a couple of other local schools, it within dnn to kind of be my top choices at the time. And when I went and I sat down with the coaches at both of these programs, you know, they would ask me, What do you see of yourself? How do you think you can contribute to this team? And I would give them some sort of answer. I was very sheepish at that time and kind of said, Yeah, well, I just want a couple of events and I'm hoping to

Unknown Speaker  7:59  

draw hands Answer.

Unknown Speaker  8:00  

Yeah, I'm hoping to drop maybe two seconds, you know, try to make the the big 10 team for you guys, that'd be really nice. And you know, they would kind of come back with Well, here's where we see you slotting in kind of in the middle of the pack, we think you can maybe contribute a couple of points at a dual meet here and there. If things get really good, you know, we'd love to see you join our team at a conference championship. That would be great. And that's kind of where we left it. Right. And so at that time, I framed my maximal performance around what these coaches said they believed in me, especially because they are pretty accomplished coaches themselves. And then I got a call from this this coach in Southern California, and this particular coach trains a very legendary club program here in Irvine. And at the time, he was the head coach of a very, very small college, a 400 school, you know, 400 student University in Orange County, and he said, Would you like to come out and take a look there Normally, I wouldn't bother Especially because the other programs I was looking at were division one programs that we're talking about Yale, right? Yeah, exactly. But this this particular coach had something going for him that the other two did not, which is he is one of the winningest coaches in Olympic history for Team USA. He's trained a lot of Olympians, he's trained a lot of world record holders. That's just what he does. So I said, Sure, if you're paying for it, I'll come out and I'll take I'll take a look. Yeah, sounds nice to come to California and ever been out there. And so, you know, saw this beautiful campus and everything and met the teachers, but then when we actually sat down for our one on one conversation, he immediately started talking about here's what I see in you and you know, to break the world record, you know, these are the components that we need to work on. And you know, you need to be at this particular time in the first half your race, you know, this much exerted effort, you know, these are the things that when you just streamline in your stroke and A couple of drills that I want to do with you. And I said, well, we'll hold up hold up. World Record, you're talking about breaking the world record, I haven't even qualified for a national championship yet. Right? Right. Where did that come from? And, you know, just very casually and very squarely, he just looked at me and said, I think you've got it in you. And I'm gonna believe in you until you prove me wrong. Hmm. And that's all I needed to hear. That's all he needed to hear, because he believed in me so much more than anyone else I saw. Right. And I think this is a theme that I have seen beyond my swimming career in the people that I really connect with in life as well. As well as you know, professional collaborations, you know, people such as yourself, frankly, is this idea of seeing the potential in something and really allowing that childlike belief, you know, to really guide you and inspire you and take you to to what's possible. And in a worst case scenario, maybe you don't exactly achieve exactly what you're going for. But man, the ride can be so much more interesting that way. So all in all, this really had to be a tough decision for you. because on one hand, you've had a couple of really great schools. But then you also had a legendary swim coach. So what did you end up doing? So after a lot of hard thought, especially listening to the there's a saying in Hindi, which I'm sure is very universal among all cultures, and that saying or that question is, look, Ganga, which means what are people going to say? And it's this idea that you make so many decisions, with with society in mind, you know, the type of school that you may go to the type of home that you may buy, the brand of clothing that you may wear, whatever it is, right. And, you know, turning down to division one Premier Division One programs, where the Indian community would have been like, congrats receive something, and going to this no name University was a big risk.

Unknown Speaker  12:06  

And did you get any flack from your parents or any one in the Indian community because of your decision?

Unknown Speaker  12:12  

I Another benefit of being part of an immigrant family is sometimes your parents don't know any better. What type of decision you're making and so, you know, in the in South Asian community there, there are certain kind of helicopter parents or whatever you want to call them. Tiger mom, Tiger Dad, I don't know what they call them these days. So many names, you know, where, where they're basically grooming their kid to get into Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, right. And every move that they make from the moment you're born is to achieve that aim. And then the rest is taken care of after that, right. And I was fortunate enough where my parents didn't know any better. to them. Ohio State was as good as as you know, Berkeley. It really didn't matter. And so I was fortunate enough where I saw I'm going to go to soco University in Orange County, California and train with this coach. They were just like Well, alright, and just kind of ran with it. I ended up at the university. It was my freshman year and I got absolutely clobbered by the training. I could not keep up. I was at that pool, sometimes 30 minutes to an hour, two hours after everyone else had left for the night and gone and had dinner and went to bed. And

Unknown Speaker  13:26  

at what point did you um, this had to be grueling on you? It had to be demoralizing and had to be physically exhausting. What kept you in the in the pool? I mean, what kept you coming back every time because at that point, a lot of people would have just said you know what, forget this. I'm out of here or you know, or I'm just not cut out for this or whatever. What kept you in the pool.

Unknown Speaker  13:51  

In the early days of my college, swimming career, I just had a really strong desire to go to the Olympics. I know that sounds really cheesy and very surface level. But it was a very personal thing, where it's just, I want to see myself at the opening ceremonies, I want to see myself on the biggest stage

Unknown Speaker  14:09  

that that the sport has to offer,

Unknown Speaker  14:11  

the deck calm that those thoughts come after that Indian coach came up to you that day

Unknown Speaker  14:16  

or had planted the seed. But I think Dave, my actual college coach was the one who allowed me to vocalize that, okay, and not be afraid to vocalize that. And just simply say I'm training for the Olympics, right and not look around and see if anyone's judging me for having said so right. But towards the latter half of my college career, so the final two years as the Olympics were coming, coming up, my motivations actually changed a little bit. And that was informed partially by some personal things that happened in my life. At the time my parents were going through a very difficult divorce and a very malicious divorce in it, just you know, By being in college, I had met some friends who were going through some very difficult times themselves. And I was I was rooting for everyone's happiness. It was something that weighed on me heavily to see people that I cared about being so deeply saddened and afflicted as a result of their, their life circumstances. Some of those things in their control some of those things out of their control. And in some cases, they would tell me, you know, you, you are my happiness, or you are, just tell me something, tell me something about your day that went well, so I can, you know, feel like, you know, things are good or whatever it was right, and these types of conversations I was having. And I knew, I knew that there could be a happier future for all these people. And at some point, that overwhelmed every time I would step up to a block to race, you know, it's like I was saying a little prayer for everyone that I cared about and said this one's for you.

Unknown Speaker  16:02  

And it was so

Unknown Speaker  16:06  

there's an electricity that that, that just courses through you, you know when you're up there representing people who can't represent themselves or you're up there representing people who hope to see that in themselves but they need someone to show them the way whatever it might be. And when that switch happened is it's it's again, similar to these these movies and things you see where someone you know, their eyes finally opened up to what they're capable of. And I started seeing performances from myself that I had never seen before. I started seeing a level of endurance, a level of determination, a willingness to, to do things that I had never seen before.

Unknown Speaker  16:49  

When you're training for you know, something such as the Olympics or anything professional sport or whatever, people get very selfish. It's like, this is me, this is me this my have to have my time and you You were balancing all of that out and helping others, which I think is an amazing, you know, attribute and, and I think it's, it's, it's, it makes you who you are. So I think that's great. But I also think there's something, you know, key that you you touched on that sort of universal and I think it crosses a lot of boundaries. It's when I know in my life when I've had the most success, or I, or seasons of success, I should say, it's when I was focusing on someone else besides myself, you know, trying to help someone else do something or, or I think when we reach out to other people, and we want to help other people, there's, like you said, I think there's this energy that kind of comes through, and especially in situations where, you know, through a divorce or through something that's, you know, death or, you know, really bad problems. It I think it just boosts it even more So I think that's very interesting and says a lot about you. So

Unknown Speaker  18:04  

it certainly was transformative for me to kind of step outside myself and and try to be the best person I could be to help people charge up their own lives. And and, and give them a little something to kind of look up to and look forward to.

Unknown Speaker  18:20  

I want to revisit these challenges, but for one second, let's talk about what it takes to actually qualify for the Olympics.

Unknown Speaker  18:27  

For time sports, especially for things like track and swimming. There are from from the perspective of the the Olympic Committee, there are time standards that they would like everyone to meet in order to participate. And those time standards are kind of the cutoff is around the top 100 in the world mark. That's that's generally around the number of people they want participating in every event, give or take

Unknown Speaker  18:57  

what sounds like a lot, but it's really not mean you're thinking globally?

Unknown Speaker  19:01  

Yeah, if you're thinking about the hundreds of thousands of swimmers, right? That, you know, I don't even know how many people I was racing against NC double A's, for example, but and the NCAA is that championship is the top of the top in the United States. Right. And so yeah, globally, it's it's a pretty tough time standard to meet. And then every country is only allowed a total of two athletes per swimming event. So as an example, my event is 100 meter butterfly. So Adam, maximum, India would be able to send two athletes.

Unknown Speaker  19:33  

Now that's cutting it down.

Unknown Speaker  19:34  

That's really cutting it down. Yeah. And then, you know, the United States, even though they may have five or six butterfly buyers that are within the top 100, probably more like 10 or 15 butterflies that are within the top 100 they could only send two of them. And so it's a harrowing experience to go through Olympic trials. Sometimes, you know, like when you watch watch a really close semifinal in a basketball Or even, you know, football or something like that sometimes that game can be harder than the final itself. And it's very similar in swimming at these elite countries, you know, the United States. So Germany, Japan, China, where the trials are sometimes as challenging as the Olympics themselves. So for India, really what I had to do was I had to make that Olympic Qualifying standard that was set by the Olympic Committee, and then also be number one in India. Those were the two things I had to do. I had to be the world's fastest Indian.

Unknown Speaker  20:31  

So talk a little bit about how that works. Because you were a US citizen of Indian descent. Yes, correct. How did that work?

Unknown Speaker  20:40  

So after I had met the Indian coach at the World Championships when I was just a little kid, and he kind of primed me by saying, you know, contact me when you get get to the Olympics. I started just kind of scoping out what are their competitions? What I need to attend prior to the Olympics because they also have an attendance policy. You Do have to compete at international sanctioned events, you know, in some cases in order to qualify for the for the Olympic Games, and so I knew that I would have to do a little bit of legwork, not just make a time. And so I reached back out to the Indian Swimming Federation of India and asked them what procedures Do I need to follow in the years leading up to the games before? You know, we actually get to Beijing, assuming I can make the time. And so that set in motion a process of me actually applying for Indian citizenship. You know, India, this, we're just talking about global geopolitics and socio economics at large. India has seen a massive outflow of their most educated talent to other countries, because that's where a lot of the highly educated jobs were. So if you are a top tier engineer, lawyer, Doctor, you know, whatever have you, you're gonna make a much better salary in Detroit, Michigan or New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco, then you are in Mumbai or Delhi or Bangalore. And that's actually the reason my parents immigrated to the United States is because as physicians, they could see a quality of life for them that was a little bit beyond what they would they would get, you know, in India itself.

Unknown Speaker  22:21  

Was there a reason that you chose to swim for India versus the US at this point?

Unknown Speaker  22:27  

Honestly, a big, big reason of it was the task was was really something especially in a Michael Phelps Olympic year, right to try to qualify for the US team. And I would have gotten close. I think at my peak, I was sixth in the United States. Wow. But 60 isn't good enough to go. Yeah. I was also kind of dealing with and I think this is something a lot of first generation immigrant children deal with his Really what is my identity ethnically, culturally? Who am I, if I were to fashion myself in the likeness of the neighbor, kids, right, there would be a big part of my identity that would be missing. The language, the culture, the customs, the the way of thinking, the history that the common shared history that I have with with, you know, people in South Asia, right. And Alternatively, if I fashioned myself strictly as, as an Indian, there would be a lot of my identity, I would still be missing, right? I would I, I am an American citizen. I am an American,

Unknown Speaker  23:35  


Unknown Speaker  23:37  

And so this is a common challenge for those of us who kind of live between those two worlds. And it was something that I wanted to kind of challenge myself to do as well and say, This is an exploration of my identity. So I'd like to see where this goes. I'd like to see what it's like to really embrace The Indian side of myself. And the more I interacted with the Indian swimming and sports community at large, especially with young kids and their parents, they would look to athletes like myself and say, you know, we believe in you, we want to see you succeed, we hope, we hope the best for you. And they weren't saying it out of nowhere, but right, because their kids were listening, right, because their kids were watching that interaction between myself and their parents. And I also wanted to be a beacon of belief for kids, you know, who may have been 10 years younger than me, but we're in a similar position. They were first generation Americans. They were toeing the line identity wise between being Indian being American or being Chinese or American, Singaporean, Japanese, whatever it was, and I think representing India, brought with it so many opportunities to speak to people and say, I'm just like you, and you know, we're all kind of in this together and However you want to connect with me, talk to me reach out to me, I'm here to make those conversations happen. Because I'm going through it and trying to make it as you may be in the future yourself.

Unknown Speaker  25:13  

That's interesting. And so when you went back to India, and you know, you had dual citizenship, did you get any blowback or any pushback from other Indian athletes who had not?

Unknown Speaker  25:27  

Absolutely that? Yeah. And this, this kind of goes back to what you were saying, in terms of, you know, if you put yourself out there with some sort of work, you know, in your profession, you know, it's creative work of some kind, or you launch a project or you deliver, you know, a commercial or video, whatever it is, there are people who are going to criticize you for what you've done, or tell you you've sold out or whatever it is that they think that you've done without really knowing your story, right. And so, I felt like I was being squeezed on both sides because in the United States You know, quietly there were there were murmurs like, Why doesn't he just go for the US trials? You know, he grew up in America. Why is he trying to be Indian now? And alternatively, when I went to India, they called me the American. And and that was one of my nigga they do that to your face or Absolutely, yeah. Yeah. That was a intimidate intimidation tactic that I heard a lot from other Indian athletes while I was on the Indian National Team.

Unknown Speaker  26:27  

Wow. And how did you What was your response to that,

Unknown Speaker  26:30  

at first being told by my fellow Americans, that I was foolish or criticizing me for trying to represent India on the international stage and also being criticized by Indians for trying to represent India on the international stage because they thought I was American. I felt I felt smushed from both sides. Yeah,

Unknown Speaker  26:55  

you had to feel like yet that you a man with no, no, I know islands right. Yeah,

Unknown Speaker  27:00  

I felt like I didn't belong anywhere. And it's this weird kind of identity purgatory that

Unknown Speaker  27:10  

that I really had to grapple with.

Unknown Speaker  27:13  

Did you have to talk to somebody like your coaches about that? Or did you just sort of cope and deal

Unknown Speaker  27:19  

that despair kind of did show up on my face from time to time. So I would have personal friends, or sometimes a coach would kind of just ask me like you all right, and they're like, what's going on? Do you want to talk about it?

Unknown Speaker  27:29  

And for a long time, I didn't know why I felt so isolated. And eventually I didn't have a choice except to own it. Because the goal, right, the objective of trying to do what I was trying to do, superseded the criticism, and it just kind of was like, it really doesn't matter. Whether I'm alone on an island. In this case, I've committed myself to doing this thing and it means so much to me. So I'm just going to do it. Come with me. There. multiple types of personalities when it comes to being a competitive individual. And, again, I think it speaks a lot to your character that your drive came from other people's despair. And sometimes I know a lot of athletes, you know, will take criticism or that and just, you know, pump and drive you further right? Did you feel any of that when you were kind of, you know, in between? Or did you just take that, as you know, like you said, This is my desire, this is what I'm going to do, and you just stay the course.

Unknown Speaker  28:31  

There's a really, really interesting movie line from an x men movie, I think, where Professor X says something like, true focus lies at the meeting of rage and serenity.

Unknown Speaker  28:49  

Yeah, yeah. It's a great line.

Unknown Speaker  28:52  

And I observed in myself that if I fed off of my anger, whatever progress I made was shortly lived in was very erratic, it would actually tire me out. And if I sat back, you know, just kind of laid back and just kind of wallowed in the grief of whatever circumstances I had, I didn't make any progress, right. So there was there was, I had to cultivate this focus and and really serenely, channel it into something that I could I could work with. And when I did it, that's when when things really started to happen.

Unknown Speaker  29:30  

And regardless of all of that, and maybe the the lessons you learned and the things that you went through, at some point in time, you're going to have to qualify or not qualify. So talk about that a little bit.

Unknown Speaker  29:40  

I qualified at a very unexpected race.

Unknown Speaker  29:45  

And it wasn't a massive World Championships or something. It just happened to be a time trial after a big meat that we swim in college and that day My whole team, my whole college team really caught up with the intention of supporting me to see if I could make it that morning. This happened to be a sanctioned event, it was the day after another college meet in the same pool. So we're like, Why the heck not? Let's try and see what happens. And this might do is after four or five attempts at major national or international competitions, where I tried to qualify it and got nowhere near the time. absolutely nowhere near the time, in front of Indian coaches in front of, you know, an A audience of thousands at a US National Championships didn't make it. Right. And those were the competitions that we were targeting. So this little quiet time trial, which was a sanctioned event, after a big National College competition, I suited up and was like, Alright, let's go for it. Let's see what happens. And I think I made up my mind that day, as I had mentioned, Before, you know, I had to really break through a pain barrier and a belief barrier in order to perform at this level. And I told myself that morning. I'm willing to sacrifice myself, so to speak in in pursuit of this cause. And, you know, that isn't necessarily being as dramatic as I will die in the pool for this sort of thing. But I think everything that you were facing up to that point that had to be your mindset for that day. Absolutely. So I did the race. And all I remember is, as I'm coming home, I see one of those best friends through my goggles, you know, the waters just sloshing everywhere, about 20 meters from the wall, and he is yelling with everything he has to get me to that wall. And he was one of those friends who, you know, I was trying to be there for sure, in so many ways. And it kicked me into another gear. And when I say kicked me into another gear again That's not feeding off of some sort of rage and feeling like I'm powering up, I closed my eyes and channeled that serenity and simply said, allow me to get past this come what may and very quietly, very calmly, just tried to get to the wall. And because I had been disappointed before, I just kind of stood there for a second and was like, Alright, another disappointment. What's it gonna be? And I turned around. And at this point, the whole team is cheering, just screaming, because I didn't just make the time. But I broke a USC school record that had been standing for something like 15 or 20 years. Wow, man, that is amazing launched myself to I think top five or top 10 in the United States and something like top 30 in the world. And my coach was, you could, you could Just tell he had this look on his face like I told you so.

Unknown Speaker  33:04  

Wow. That's incredible man.

Unknown Speaker  33:08  

So it was incredible day.

Unknown Speaker  33:09  

Yeah. So what was that moment? Like when when did it really sink in while you were still in the pool? Or did you get out? And

Unknown Speaker  33:17  

oh no, I allowed myself to celebrate right away. I had been chasing this for so long that I did not want to hold back at all right? I was I was doing cartwheels for for all I remember. right afterwards. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker  33:32  

And the funny thing is

Unknown Speaker  33:35  

10 minutes later, there was another race. And I was like, should I do it? It was for the 50 meter freestyle. Yeah. And they're like, Well, whatever. If you want to do it, we're all we're all here. So you might as well just see what happens. Right? I qualified for two events at the Olympics that day. Oh my gosh,

Unknown Speaker  33:54  

yeah. Wow. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker  33:57  

Unfortunately, I couldn't raise both of them in Beijing, because Because they were back to back and I wanted to focus on one, right, but whatever it was about the energy, you know, I broke through so many barriers that day and and it still lives on is kind of one of the most memorable positive days in my life. I bet.

Unknown Speaker  34:13  

I bet I had to be so much energy in that in that space in that in that water. You know, just, that's incredible. So electric. So after all of that work, all of the challenges, all of the things that you overcame the failures on top of failures, and you finally hit that moment. What was that like for you? When you finally realized I made it? You know, we all have a lot of goals in our lives. And we all have these things, these these big dreams that we want. Yep. And those that moment that you feel like or that moment that it happened, can you describe that

Unknown Speaker  35:00  

Ah, how do you describe that?

Unknown Speaker  35:05  

That You Might be describing right now there's just gonna be no word

Unknown Speaker  35:08  

I am at a loss for words, honestly.

Unknown Speaker  35:12  

And I think that's interesting, you know, because seeing that in other people and and experiencing these, you know what we kind of determined our own lives are big moments. When you finally do hit that moment, you know, it's kind of like,

Unknown Speaker  35:30  

I can't describe that. Yeah, there's this this guy.

Unknown Speaker  35:35  

Alan Watts. He's a, I don't know if you've ever heard of him, but he was a philosopher, you know, big kind of big back in the 60s and 70s. And he has this quote, and he says, no great geniuses can explain how he or she does

Unknown Speaker  35:50  

what they do. Hmm. Interesting. And

Unknown Speaker  35:54  

it's, it's interesting that sometimes they're just no words like, I don't know how it just I just did it. You know? Yeah. Were you treated differently after you qualified?

Unknown Speaker  36:07  

In some cases, yes, in a positive way. There was a sense of like, Okay, this guy's for real. The people who kind of know and care about me, of course, they treated me just the same, which was, which was wonderful. So I think it was definitely a positive change, at least within my immediate social

Unknown Speaker  36:30  

and family ecosystem. What about the other Indian athletes once you qualified? Were you treated differently then

Unknown Speaker  36:37  

there were two camps really, amongst the Indian athletes and there continue to be and, and I would say, by and large, there were a number of athletes, whether they were swimmers or other sports, who were just very encouraging, no matter who you were, no matter what country you came from, it's just encouraging of if you have a goal and you've achieved it, you know, props to you. And welcome to the club. Welcome to the team. You know, you're one of us. No. And I actually have some very good friends on on the Indian Olympic team as a result of that welcoming positivity. Yeah, that's great. And then occasionally in the minority, there would be athletes who, you know, they would use intimidation tactics, or they would call me out and say, you know, the American, what's he doing in our dorm? Or what's he doing in our in our space? Or there were there were moments at the Olympic Games to where Indian press, you know, they were obviously intrigued by the fact that as an American citizen, I had gained dual citizenship and I had joined the Indian team. Did that get political at all? Not with me specifically. But as a big picture thing. Post Olympics. Yes, it did become very political. And I can tell you more about that if it comes up. But during the Olympics, it was just more petty kind of intimidation tactics. stuff that I experienced from a couple of team members. But whenever the press would, you know, ask for an interview from any of the swimmers just as it just as a way to see what I was made of, they would be like, why don't you go talk to them? We don't want to. Interesting. And so I would, and I would give these interviews in the national language of India and Hindi, right? And tell them how I felt and how I felt just very blessed to be part of this team. And you're talking about the Indian press at this point getting press right, and that I you know, I feel like I represent a Global Indian diaspora that is looking for an identity of home despite the fact that they have to bridge these two cultures in these two places. And after one of those interviews, I think it was the first one and you know, all my other teammates in the head coaches and whatever just kind of quietly watching me do this from a distance. I walked back to to the team and they kind of looked at me and they were like, you sound more Indian than the rest of us? Why don't you just continue to do the rest of these interviews from now on. And it was weird. It was a small thing. But in that moment, I felt much more sure of who I was just just my social and contextual identity in this time and place. Just hearing that from the people who were kind of heckling me on for for the weeks before that.

Unknown Speaker  39:22  

Yeah. Because at this point, you are at the games. Right? And so you are with the Indian team. That's right. You're not you're not hanging out with with the Americans informally, informally. But for all intensive purposes. I was in India on the Indian team. So right, just you guys as a group, yes. Interesting.

Unknown Speaker  39:43  

Yeah. Interesting. And I think that that actually soften some of them.

Unknown Speaker  39:49  

Honestly, yeah.


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