JAKARTA: Gaurika Singh was thrust into the international spotlight as the youngest athlete at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where she captivated people with her story of earthquake survival.
She’s still only 15 but at the Asian Games, where’s she competing in swimming this week, she feels almost like a veteran.
Singh is not even the youngest member of the Nepal swimming team in Jakarta, as she’s two months older than teammate Tisa Shakya. And there are competitors on other national teams who haven’t even reached their teens — the youngest at the games being 9-year-old Indonesian skateboarder Aliqqa Novvery.
“I’m happy not to be the youngest this time because it kind of helps,” Singh said. “There’s less spotlight so you can focus on just swimming.”
“There was a lot of media attention,” she added, recalling the Olympics in 2016 when she was aged 13. “It was fun but it was tiring.”
Still, in context, it was nothing compared with her experience of the April 2015 earthquake that killed 9,000 people and damaged nearly 1 million houses and structures in Nepal.
She was preparing for the national championships in Kathmandu when the massive quake struck.
Singh was in a five-story office block at the time and took shelter under a desk. Luckily, the building she was in didn’t collapse.
“It was very scary,” she said. “My mum was with me but it was terrifying.”
She may just be a teenager but she’s packed a lot into her years and that experience helped shape her view of the world. When she’s done with swimming, she hopes to work for the United Nations. For now, though, she’s focused on competing.
There were only two Olympic-size swimming pools in Nepal before the 2015 quake and one of those was ruined and hasn’t been rebuilt. The one remaining pool is outdoors, which means it freezes over in winter.
So Singh is the only member of the Nepal swimming team at the Asian Games who gets to swim all year round because she moved to Britain with her parents, who are doctors, when she was two.
She goes back to the Himalayas every summer to train with the national squad but practices at her base in England the rest of the time.
“I just love representing Nepal. It’s a great honor,” Singh said. “This is the first international meet after Rio so it’s just fun getting back to all of this.”