Find out how they’re making waves!
By Sahar Aftab Paliwala
Meet Aryan and Anaya Nehra, a 17 and 11 year old brother and sister swimming duo and champs-in-training at the British International School, Phuket (BISP).
Aryan is in Year 13 and has been studying at BISP for the last four years. He was recently recruited by the University of Florida (UF) and is excited to join the ‘Florida Gators’ who compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I. UF’s elite athletics program has produced hundreds of Olympians and medalists – a list Aryan aspires to add his name to.
Anaya is in Year 7 and has just recently moved to Thailand to join her brother at BISP. “We wanted Anaya to be here before I headed off to university so I could help make the transition process easier for her,” says Aryan. Anaya is the youngest swimmer in the gold squad led by BISP Aquatics Director Charles Pike. He adds that it’s obviously not easy to be apart from family in a different country for younger kids like Anaya.
“When she first got here she was a little shy, but her outgoing personality quickly took over and she made friends with kids on the team and in her class,” says Coach Charles. “She’s talented enough to swim with kids two or three years older than her. She’s doing a really good job of holding her own and has earned their respect by putting in the work.”
The siblings originally hail from Ahmedabad, India. Polite as can be, and humble to top it off, the duo began their swimming journeys years ago. They both started off competing at district, state and national level competitions in India before they came to Thailand. At just 9 years of age, Aryan bagged his first district gold followed by another gold at the state level the very next year. Anaya, too, has racked up medals at district and state competitions in India.
Aryan remembers being an extremely energetic child involved with several other sports such as tennis, football, skating and golf before realizing that swimming was the sport for him. The decision to leave India and move to Thailand was based on the quality of the academic and sports program at BIS. “I wanted to train at a school with one of the best sports programs in Asia, but one which offered me the chance to excel at academics too. BISP was the perfect fit in both regards,” says Aryan.
As children, they travelled quite frequently around the country because of their dad’s job. “This is by far the longest I’ve ever spent in one place, let alone the same school,” says Aryan. As he has spent his entire teenage years at BISP, the influence of the coaches has been fundamental in honing his stroke and techniques.
High Performance Swim Academy Head Coach, Colin Braund, recalls when Aryan first came to him as a 13 year old. “Aryan was one of the youngest athletes on the squad when he first joined. There was no question about his commitment to swimming – he worked hard, pushed himself and took risks,” says Coach Colin. “We helped him to narrow down his focus to what he does best, which is long-distance freestyle swimming.” High performance athletes at BISP have historically gone on to represent their countries in World Championships, Junior World Championships and Olympic games.
Both Aryan and Anaya live in boarding at BISP and enjoy the experience. “There’s tons of kids in boarding – it feels like I have dozens of siblings. We play around and have a lot of fun,” says Anaya. For Aryan, boarding was invaluable during lockdown last year, before his sister moved here. “It was great having house parents during lockdown. I was one of the last ones left in boarding and I’m truly thankful they were there for us,” he remarks.
Inevitably, in a conversation about swimming, the topic turned to swimming idols. For Ayana, there is no one like her brother. The admiration in her eyes when she speaks of him is clear for all to see. Aryan says his swimming idols mean more to him than just their records and medals. “I admire Grant Hackett and Ian Thorpe, not only because they’re great competitors, but also because of their personalities. That’s worth more to me in the long run,” says Aryan.
Both coaches have high words of praise for their charges. Coach Colin says that UF being one of the top sports programs in the U.S. doesn’t award many scholarships, so even a partial scholarship like the one Aryan has secured is a huge achievement. At 17, Aryan is a year younger than the rest of the freshmen will be. “There haven’t been any Indian swimmers who have qualified for the Olympics yet. I see a big future for Aryan in the 2022 Commonwealth Games and will be looking out for him in the 2024 Olympics as well,” he concludes.
With Anaya training at her best and Aryan off to a top university in a few months, the two of them are well on the way to making their mark in the swimming world.
Click here for more information about the British International School, Phuket.