June 2018 | 850 words | 3-minute read
‘Prayatne Valuche Kan Ragadita’ is an old Marathi saying which loosely translates to ‘With dedicated effort, the impossible becomes possible and you will be successful.’ This was Sameer’s mantra for the two years of training dedicated to the English Channel swim. On September 16, 2017, 36-year-old Sameer became the 1820th swimmer, and only the 46th Indian, in the world to cross the Channel.
The English Channel, which separates southern England from northern France, is about 34 km wide at its narrowest part between Dover and Calais. However, swimmers often end up swimming much more because of the choppy waters, capricious tides and busy shipping traffic, making swimming across the channel a superhuman endeavour.
Led by passion
Sameer took up swimming when he was 24 – an age considered too old for competitive swimming. Though he had learned swimming during his childhood, he took it up only after he joined TCS in 2002.
Initially it was merely an exercise routine for Sameer; however, as his endurance increased, he actively considered taking up long-distance open water swimming. He consulted medical and other professionals to prepare himself physically. Besides spending time in the pool, he started working out at the gym and running marathons to build his stamina. It took him seven years to build the physical endurance he needed for open water swims but perseverance and hard work paid off eventually.
The successful completion of a 36km swim in 2015 made him think about attempting what is regarded by many as the most challenging open water swim in the world — the English Channel. Though he had read about the efforts of successful swimmers, he admits that he never imagined that he would someday join this esteemed league.
Chasing a dream
In January 2016, he registered for the English Channel swim. The pursuit of his aim entailed sacrificing everything, including leisure and social activities for two years. Often on weekends, Sameer would enter the pool in the morning and come out only in the evening. He says, “You are continuously swimming looking at the floor of the pool for 8-9 hours. There are no breaks. Mentally, it can be very taxing.”
In June 2017, Sameer left for the UK to train with Dover Channel Training, a volunteer group which trains swimmers planning to cross the channel, for three months. From concentrating on food, getting acclimatised to the cold currents to remaining focused on his aim, Sameer had to learn a lot as part of the training.
There is a lot of planning that goes into this swim. Sameer started planning for this swim during his training period, with a proactive approach to learning from his mistakes. He remembers learning the hard way that an ideal diet during the swim largely consists of liquids, varying from high carbohydrate drinks to tea. Sameer had put together a list of almost 100 items that needed to be carried for the swim, over a period of three months including items to be fed to him periodically, and backups for these. He had put together a timing chart that the crew had to follow to feed him at the right times, through a bottle, with a rope tied around it, thrown towards the swimmer.
Sameer started the swim from Dover on September 16, 2017, at 6 am GMT. No amount of training or research could have prepared him for what he had to endure and experience. The English Channel is said to be one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, and though the swimmer is given right of way, Sameer admits there is nothing quite as intimidating as having a huge tanker coming at you. “They are huge, and generate ripples of water that you have to swim through,” he says. At one point in the 11th hour of the swim, he found that because of the tides, he was unable to move forward. It was highly demoralising.
At one point, the rigorous activity and the fatigue nearly took a toll but Sameer felt energised by the sight of the French shore in the distance. “Because I can see France now, I am not going to give up,” he kept repeating to himself. He had begun shivering by this time, and he was afraid that if the shivering continued, he would be asked to quit for fear of hypothermia. The channel swim requires a great deal of focus and mental strength and Sameer admits that “I am the kind of person who needs closure, I have a compulsive need to finish something.” Finally, after swimming in the same spot for almost 4 hours, at 9:30 pm GMT in 15.19 hours he finished the swim.
Despite the hardships endured and the struggles he had to face, Sameer is proud of his achievement and hopeful that it will encourage others to follow their dreams. The Channel Swimming Association gave him the Most Meritorious Swim award for 2017. Through this experience, Sameer exemplifies his mantra.