If you’ve tuned into the news in 2015, then Bhakti Sharma is one name you couldn’t have missed. Sharma set a world record on January 10 by swimming 1.4 miles in 52 minutes in one degree temperature in the Antarctic Ocean. She became the first Indian woman to achieve this feat, beating the previous record of British open water swimming champion Lewis Pugh and American swimmer Lynne Cox. She talks to Youth Inc’s Aayush Ailawadi about how she achieved this herculean feat and managed to make India proud
Who are the most important people in your life who have helped you get to where you are today?
My parents, relatives and a small (but supportive) circle of friends and a lot of strangers who contact me via various media. Most importantly, my guru who has taken me through this entire journey.
Your mother is also a national level swimmer. How much of an influence or inspiration has she been in your life for you to take up swimming as a sport?
She has been the sole reason for me to take up swimming. She has been my coach and mentor ever since the day she taught me how to swim, which was when I was two and a half years old.
When I was 14, my mother pitched the idea of swimming the English Channel to me and I decided to give it a shot. I’ve been doing open water swimming since then.
How was the transformation from a regular pool swimming champion to someone who set the world record swimming in the Antarctic Ocean?
Physically, the transformation was drastic. But, since I was always more comfortable with long events even in pool swimming, I could adjust to open water real smoothly. It required me to increase my stamina, get used to being alone with myself in the water for hours and hours at a stretch and cope up with the fear that comes with jumping in different seas and oceans. I trained my body by swimming non-stop for hours in the pool or in a lake back home. I increased my diet to gain body fat which gets converted into energy during long swims and I trained mostly by my mother’s and my instincts.
Mentally, I had to train myself a lot as open water is mostly mental strength. For the swim in Antarctica, I prepared myself with the help of meditation.
How did you manage both studies and swimming?
At home, swimming was never an excuse to escape from studies. So, since I was a child, I had been brought up to not take studies lightly. That attitude remained with me throughout my life. So, before exams, my entire focus would be on studies. I could manage to cover up whatever I had missed during the sessions in a short span of time. It was a lot of pressure but nothing that could not be done. I wanted to get into a good college on my own merit and that’s what motivated me to top the commerce section of my school in the 12th grade.
Likewise, doing a master’s in communication was also my wish, so I made sure to work hard for it and over the two years managed to get a good GPA, (one of the highest actually!) I believe it is always about being sure of what you want to do at that certain point of time and focusing completely on that.
You’ve already covered the five oceans of the world. What are your plans now?
I have no plans as of now. I wish to stay put in my home town and work for the social cause that I have taken up for the girl child and women empowerment with the help of my sponsor. I am the brand ambassador of the two campaigns that they run – ‘Sakhi’ and ‘Khushi’ and I will be working on their agenda as well.
Give us a sneak peak as to what it felt like to achieve this feat..
The logistics of this swim were a major issue and I had gone through a lot of trouble arranging it. So, after a long journey of almost four days, when I boarded the cruise from Ushuaia that took us to Antarctica, I thought to myself, “We have made it so far, this is really happening!”
When we started entering the Antarctic peninsula, the view completely changed from seeing water everywhere to ubiquitous icebergs and ice everywhere. It was intimidating at first but the beauty makes you almost weep to see the magnificence of god’s amazing creation. It was all very surreal. The journey back home was actually so tiring that for a bit, I had forgotten about the swim (laughs).
Do you have other hobbies that keep you busy, or do you devote all your time to swimming?
I love to read, watch movies and sleep. So when I am not swimming, I am doing either one of these things.
What message do you have for young aspiring swimmers in India?
Dare to dream and believe that you have it in you to achieve it. My motto is – Dream. Believe. Achieve. Repeat.
* The most challenging swim you’ve ever had: Swimming 1.4 miles in Antarctica
* What you love most about open water swimming: The beauty of nature and the variety. Each sea is different and teachers me something new.
* Proudest moment of your life: When strangers tell me that my swims have inspired them to achieve their goals.
* Hobbies: I love to read, watch movies and sleep.
Volume 4 Issue 8