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Sonal Ladha shares her exciting journey and rise through the sport of water polo

Teenager Sonal Ladha has shared her water polo journey after her impressive rise through the sport.

Sonal played water polo for the first time just two years ago and has already collected a number of medals and joined Swim England’s Talent Centre programme.

She’s creating an impact outside of the pool too, speaking recently on the main stage at SKLPC (Shree Kutch Leva Patel Community) Mela at India Gardens in Northolt about her experiences.

Sonal and her family invited Swim England to attend the event to help raise awareness of learning to swim and getting into swimming teaching as a profession.

More than 9,000 people from across the community attended, with many registering interest in hearing more about upcoming opportunities to become a teacher.

And Sonal’s speech impressed Swim England’s Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Mike Hawkes, who thanked Sonal and her family for the invitation.

He said: “We were very happy to be able to attend SKLPC’s Mela. Sonal spoke brilliantly about her successes in water polo and it was fantastic to speak to so many people about the opportunities to become a swimming teacher.

“Thanks must go to Sonal and her mum Sunita for the invite and to SKLPC for being such welcoming hosts!”

Sonal’s first gold

Sonal started swimming at just three-years-old with her parents and big sister, Karishma, before eventually moving into competitive swimming.

But it was once she started secondary school where she underwent trials for the Bolton School swimming team that she was first introduced to water polo.

She stated training with the school and since then it has gone onto become a huge part of her life, joining City of Manchester Water Polo Club where she’s constantly developing her game.

She said: “Water polo has become a huge passion of mine.

“It was around halfway through Year 7 when I was first introduced to water polo and started training with my school.

“In Year 8, the team trained hard on Friday mornings before school. As well as school training, I started to attend a club for some extra training.

“And all my extra training with my club paid off as I was selected to play at the U15 Swim England Water Polo National Age Group Championships last year.

“I was selected to play as a goalkeeper, which isn’t my preferred position, but I was happy to play in any position to help my team.

“The club finished top of the group which placed us in the finals and we went on to win 13-4, which gave me my first gold medal for water polo.”

More confident, resilient and determined

Sonal then went on to join Swim England’s Talent Centre programme and won both U15 English School Swimming Association Trophy (ESSA) and U18 ESSA tournament with Bolton school earlier this year.

She was also a part of City of Manchester’s squad for the U17 National Age Group Championships in May where the club narrowly lost 20-17 in the final to Cheltenham.

Despite the defeat, it was a proud moment for Sonal, who is grateful for the experiences at the talent centre.

“The talent centres meant that I started being coached by GB players who are helping me improve my skills at centre-back – my preferred position,” she added.

“I was selected to play against the other talent centres at the Swim England Talent Games events in Coventry where we trained, learned and competed.

“It’s been a great experience!

“The loss in the final was the most heart-breaking loss I have experienced, especially because we were in control until the end of the third quarter.

“We were all devastated but we congratulated the opponents, and wished them well. In the team talk after the match, a teammate lifted our spirits and said we would keep training hard to claim the gold next year.”

After a short but exciting experience in water polo so far, Sonal highly recommends the sport to those who want to get involved.

“I would definitely recommend this sport to those who are confident swimmers as there are many opportunities to do it.

“I have had many amazing and memorable experiences in the past couple of years since I have taken up water polo and become more confident, resilient and determined ever since I started.

“My team skills have improved so much and I never could have imagined where this journey would take me when I attended my first trial. I’m excited for what’s ahead.”