A Mother is a child’s best friend, guide, companion and moreover someone she can turn to when all seems arduous. For 25-year-old swimmer Bhakti Sharma, her mother also dawns the hat of being her coach. Her love for the blue waters began at the age of just over two years thanks to her mother Leena Sharma who was a swimmer herself.
Born in Mumbai and brought up in the desert land of Rajasthan, Bhakti holds the unbeatable record of being the youngest female swimmer in the world to swim across five oceans and seven seas. Her journey began from the constraints of a swimming pool and moved on to these overwhelming water bodies. “When I was 14 I was participating in all the long events in competitions like 800 and 1500 meters. However, my mother had a strong feeling about me excelling in long distance swimming. She introduced me to the possibility of swimming across the English Channel and asked me if wanted to try it. I sprung on the opportunity and never looked back from there”.
For Bhakti, her mom would swiftly transform into a coach when it was time to train. From cooking delicious food to being a strict coach, Mrs. Sharma did it all. “Training with mom wasn’t easy. When one of the parents also is your coach, the sport finds a special place in the house. I couldn’t just log out of swimming once we left the pool, I was always tuned into it. Dinner conversations often compromised of how to better my timings, or how I was lacking at the practice session. Also, because my mother was my coach, she had to be tough and strong. My swims have been very challenging and difficult. Only a coach can keep the athlete going under grueling circumstances for which he or she needs be headstrong and tough. My mom had to keep her soft side that wanted to protect the daughter aside and let the tough coach take over”.
Swimming through large water bodies requires great courage and inspiration from everything around you can be the biggest motivating factor. Bhakti surrenders herself to nature, each time she jumps into the sea. “ My life is in God’s hands when I am swimming. I try to focus on the beauty of it rather than being intimidated by it. I love how every sea is different and beautiful in its unique way. When I am in the ocean, I am the closest to nature and myself, its just me and the water for many hours”.
“My most defining moment till date has been my swim in the Antarctica. When I jumped in the for my swim, the salinity of the water hit me and for the first few minutes I was doubtful if I would successfully make it or not. However, after a while I saw a penguin swimming right beside me. It would be on my left one minute, and under my stomach the next. It made me smile. In one degree water temperature, where my body is clearly experiencing difficulties and I am performing the most strenuous task of my life, something as cute as a penguin comes by to make me smile. I had to accept it as a sign from God to carry on gracefully without letting the negatives bother me. The penguin was there with me for the better part of the swim and I shall never forget it”.
Ask her about more enriching experiences and she continues, “ Every swim has been so different and interesting. But while preparing for a swim in the Mediterranean Sea, I was practicing on a beach in Spain and I could see fish of all shapes and colors under me. It was for sure one of the moments that nature’s beauty completely took me by surprise. I got so intrigued that I started following the fish and forgot how far I had come from my start point”.
One of the brightest moments of Bhakti’s swimming career has been the Asian record she shares along with her mother, Leena and friend Priyanka Gehlot, for the first swim by a 3-member women’s relay team across the English Channel. Bhakti Shares a world record with her mother for the first mother-daughter pair to swim across the Channel. “I knew it was difficult for my mom to start swimming again at that age so I tried to give her all the positive assurances that I could. We actually failed in the first attempt of that swim and my mother fought for a second chance and she got us back on the boat after a week for a second attempt. She helped me by showing that it’s not over until you decide it is”.
Practicing for swims with and preparing for extreme conditions in seas and oceans, Bhakti’s training sometimes gave her chills, literally and otherwise. “ I usually train for about four hours a day but the duration varies if I am nearing a tough swim. Before I was going to jump into the Arctic Ocean, my mom put me in a pool with 12,500 kgs of ice to prepare me for the extreme temperatures. It was quite scary but fun filled at the same time. Every new thing really interests me and this was something so bizarre that I jumped in without a second thought”.
“I learn from each of my swims. We are not mighty and powerful as we think. We are actually minuscule in comparison to nature and the universe. If you are humble and you decide to do something great, the universe does really help you. There is no other way I could have done what I did if it wasn’t for God’s wish. We need to accept what we are but I also believe that we need to feel the BIG that lies within all of us”.
The Government of India bestowed her with the prestigious ‘Rashtrapati Award’ that goes by the name of the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award for Water Sport in 2011. Her swimming career indeed deserves the laurels that have been conferred upon her. Bhakti’s career at a glance:
In the year 2010 she successfully swam a distance of 1.8 Kms in 33 minutes in the Arctic Ocean with the water temperature ranging from 4-6 degrees Celsius. Becoming the second and youngest Swimmer in the World to swim in 4 oceans.
On 23rd July, 2008 Bhakti swam across the English Channel again. This time, as a part of a relay team comprising of 3 swimmers including her mother Leena Sharma and friend Priyanka Gehlot. This team became the first Asian team of 3 swimmers to swim across the Channel and Bhakti and her mother established a new world record of being the first ever mother daughter duo in the world to swim across the English Channel.
In the month of May 2007, she swam in the Gulf of Mexico (25 Kms), as a part of 2007 U.S.A Swimming Open Water Championships in Fort Myers Beach, Florida
In the same month, Bhakti completed the Swim around the Rock (Alcatraz), a race of 6.5 Kms in the Pacific Ocean organized by the Water World Swim team.
The end of May, 2007 was marked by winning a Gold Medal in marathon swim around the Key West Island, Atlantic Ocean (21 Kms.) in Florida. This swim not only lead Bhakti closer to her target of swimming in all 5 oceans but also made her the first Asian swimmer to participate in the above mentioned 3 events in the USA.
On 30th September, 2007 she crossed the Strait Of Gibraltar, Mediterranean Sea (19 Kms) at Tarifa, Spain in 5 hours and 13 minutes. This swim also checked the target swims in 6 seas in Bhakti’s list.
Accomplished fantastic feat of crossing the English Channel from Shakespeare Beach, Dover England to Callis, France. On. Wed 05.07.2006 from 11:00 A.M. to 12:55 A.M IST (i.e. from 06:30 A.M. to 08:15 P.M. British GMT). A distance of 36 Km., in 13 hours and 55 minutes.
On 06 August 2006, participated in the 19th International Self Transcendence Marathon Schwimmen, Rapperswil – Zurich. A marathon swim of 26.4 Km. organized under the Aegis of Shri Chinmoy Marathon Team. The event had participants from U.K., U.S.A., Hungary, New Zealand, Switzerland, Africa, India, Holland, Japan, Germany, France, Italy Estonia, Sweden, Netherlands and Uganda. She stood first and became the youngest female among all participants to achieve this outstanding success in the time period of 10 hours, 41 minutes and 42 seconds.
At the age of 14, she swam a distance of 36 Kms from Dharamtal to Gateway of India, Indian Ocean in 9 hours and 30 minutes
She finished a distance of 16 Kms. from Uran Port to Gateway Of India in 4 hours, making a record as the First Swimmer from Rajasthan to do so.
Fearless, positive and a passionate Bhakti dreams to dream big. “It feels amazing to be the youngest female swimmer to swim across five oceans and seven seas. My next big target is participating in the Olympics. I hope more girls get the strength to follow their dreams. After all, that’s all I really did- followed my dream”.