Gaurika Singh is a swimmer who is representing Nepal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. At a modest age of 13, she is the youngest athlete at the Olympics, Rio2016 confirmed on Monday. This is some achievement in itself. Her story does not end here, though. She is also a survivor of last year’s massive earthquake of Nepal that took the lives of as many as 9,000 people.
Gaurika began swimming at a very young age and has held many national records. Earlier this year at the South Asian Games, she won the bronze medal for her country in the women’s 200 meters backstroke. She clocked 2:26.93 minutes, setting a new national record, to finish third.
Leaving Nepal as a two-year-old and currently living in London, she was at Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital, last April to compete in the national swimming championships. While preparing for the competition with her family, she had to flee for her life, taking shelter under a table in a five-storied office building when a major earthquake hit Nepal on April 25, leaving an estimated 3.5 million people homeless.
She recalls only a few details of the day. “I can’t really remember anything. It was just one big blur with everything shaking,” she says.
What she does remember though, is her mother Garima, a former national topper herself in the School Leaving Certificate examinations, yelling at her brother Sauren for what she at the time thought was her son knocking over the cupboard.
“One of the cupboards had fallen and my mother was shouting because she thought my brother had tipped it over,” Singh told Fairfax Media, writes The Sydney Morning Herald.
“Luckily we were in a new office building, so it shook but nothing got damaged and it didn’t collapse. But the places around us were destroyed,” Singh adds. “I was so scared. My mum didn’t let me see any of the suffering. Mum thought it would be too traumatic and I didn’t want to see people dying.”
Singh donated the prize she won from the national championships to help rebuild the schools devastated by the quake. A good-will ambassador of the Shanti Education Initiative Nepal (SEIN), she holds the mountainous country dear in her heart. She could have represented Britain at the Olympics, but opted otherwise.
“Eventually I could have represented England, but I’m not English so there’s not much point being Nepalese and representing Britain,” she said.
“I’m Nepalese, I’m not English or anything else.”
“I wanted to go [to Rio] but wasn’t sure I’d be able to because I’d be too young,” she told the Kathmandu Post recently.
She was given a wild card to compete in the Rio Games. “When I found out a month ago, it was a big shock,” she said.
When Singh tried to enter the Olympic pool in Rio, the teenager was stopped by the security who told her only athletes were allowed. Gaurika, standing five-foot one-inch with braces on her teeth, then flashed her accreditation to gain access to the pool deck.
There is no age minimum for time-qualified swimmers at the Olympics. In 2015, a 10-year-old swimmer from Bahrain participated at the World Championships.
On Sunday, August 7, Singh will be contesting the women’s 100 meters backstroke, an event in which she holds the Nepalese national record at 1 minute 7.31 seconds. After the Olympic Games are over, she will be starting just ninth grade when she returns to her home and school in London where her father Paras, who has joined his daughter in Rio, works as an urologist at the Royal Free Hospital.
Earthquake survivor Gaurika is one of two Nepalese swimmers in Rio, alongside Sirish Gurung, who on Tuesday will be competing in the men’s 100 meters freestyle race. The 2016 Olympics will take place in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro from August 5-21.