UPCLOSE WITH TILKA PALJK; Zambia's sensational swimmer
Tilka Paljk is on the verge of becoming a national swimming star and also a promising medallist for international events like the Olympics and the FINA world championships.
At 23, she has already represented Zambia at multiple notable competitions like the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and in 2018 as well as the All Africa Games in 2019. And if all turns out well in the coming few months, she could be making her debut at the Olympics in Tokyo come July.
Getting to the Olympics is obviously every athlete’s dream in sport and for Tilka it is something she is ready to work very hard for.
“The Olympics have always been my dream and a big goal and I am working extremely hard to get to this goal,” she said during an interview earlier this year.
Asked about her goals for the future especially after going to the Olympics, the athlete was quick to highlight that her target was about getting there first.
“I'd like to get to the Olympics first. I think getting there is my biggest target. Once I have been to my first Olympics, we can set some realistic goals for the next Olympics.”
Despite the reservations in talking about her goals, the breaststroke and freestyle specialist has proved to be quite an achiever and a leader too.
In 2018, at the age of 21, the Slovenian born athlete led Zambia as captain to victory at the CANA Zone 4 Swimming Championships in Malawi, helping the country to 82 medals which was enough to edge Zimbabwe and South Africa even though they were heavy favourites.
In the same year but later in September, she participated at the African Union Sports Championships alongside countrymate Ralph Goveia in Algiers, Algeria. She won silver in 50m while Goveia won bronze.
2019 proved to be her watershed year of national recognition.
After a superb performance at the African Games where she was only one of five athletes to win a medal for Zambia, the swimmer was nominated and won the Sports Woman of the year award beating Lorita Mwango from Chess and Badminton’s Ogar Siamupangila.
“I honestly didn't expect to win it. Being nominated was more than a shock to me. I cried when I heard the news. It was unfortunate that I couldn't be there for the awards as I was told on such short notice of them, I would have loved to be there,” she says.
“The Olympics have always been my dream and a big goal and I am working extremely hard to get to this goal.”
Like many sporting activities, swimming has also been affected by the spread of the coronavirus this year and this has greatly disrupted Tilka’s progression as she has had to succumb to the demands of the lockdown in South Africa where she has been based.
Nonetheless, the athlete had been practicing personal training at home as guided by her coaches, something has helped her maintain her fitness levels.
"I mean it’s kind of disappointing because I had such a great plan for this year, you know? In terms of my swimming and I worked all my METs and everything around my schoolwork, and I was like okay, I’m going to finish university on this day, I’m going to graduate on this day and then everything just stopped. I’m just like, well, I’m going to go with the flow because I don’t really know what’s happening right now, it’s annoying."
“So at this point, I’ve literally been doing workouts at home and stuff like that, running, skipping, you know the usual."
Fortunately, lockdown measures have begun easing in the last two months in South Africa and the Zambian swimmer has managed to take part in the Hillcrest meet where she managed to record a personal best of 32.50 seconds in the breaststroke category and 27.5 seconds in freestyle, that was in October.
Currently, she is taking part in the National Tigers Swimming Championships in Pretoria where she has done exceptionally well making it to the finals in the 100m freestyle.
Since she started active swimming Tilka has also represented the country at major events like the FINA swimming Championships and the world aquatic championships in 2017.
Although swimming is not a very popular sport in the country, it has been fast growing thanks to the positive results and Tilka is hopeful that there is opportunity for more growth of the discipline in Zambia.
“Well, hopefully it means that people will gain more interest in the sport. I'd like people to become aware of more sports other than just football. I think the media can play a big role in this by advertising more sports other than just football.” She says.