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Conquering every sea
May 23, 2013 COMMENT comment
     
Conquering every sea
By Juhi Baveja
 
Creating waves with her stellar records, humble beginnings, and penchant for examining people around her, award-winning swimmer Bhakti Sharma is an admirable young achiever, a talent that all Indians should be proud of. Swimming as a separate category still warrants more female participation.
 
The will to persevere and succeed is perceptible in the eyes of Bhakti Sharma, one of the youngest swimmers to have swum across the seven seas, who has taken a literal world tour if you count her excursion around the Arctic Circle, Gulf of Mexico, and the English Channel.
 
 
Udaipur-based Sharma, who is only 20 years old, has crossed several milestones in her life till now. She was part of the first mother-daughter team to have crossed the English channel. The relay took place in 2008, and showcased the best of her abilities, as she surpassed her own best times. "We only thought of doing it together when Priyanka Gehlot (the third swimmer in the relay) approached us with a wish to train her for English Channel, but she wasn't confident about a solo swim and was looking for other swimmers to form a team. Mum had always wanted to swim across the channel, but had never gotten the chance to do so, and I wanted to be the one to help her do it," she says. From an early age, Sharma has been challenging herself to take up bigger projects – whether it was making the journey from Dharamtal to Gateway of India in Mumbai, swimming across the Strait of Gibraltar, or completing a 16 km swim in the Arabian Sea.
 
Initial sensitivity to a cold-water swim never quite wears off , even for champion swimmers, and Sharma isn't an exception to this. When she crossed the Arctic Circle around the side of Northern Iceland, the surface temperature of the water was 9.2° C. "I had to put on extra pounds before these long-distance swimming projects, just to make my body ready for the frigid water," she relates. Like any young athlete, Sharma has had to go through gruelling training exercises. "For open-water swimming sessions, I used to train for three hours minimum in both the morning and evening spots. For competitive swimming, the training is even tougher as the level of field exercises, strict diets, and focus training is amplified," she explains.
 
Her hometown Udaipur might be replete with lakes, but it wasn't all that easy to find pools to train for Sharma to train in when she was younger. "At one point I stopped swimming and took up other sports," she says.
 
Over the years, sports have been patronised by the Rajasthan Government, therefore a generous rationing of resources made it easier for the swimmer. Correspondingly, it was also her own fame that brought women athletes in the state into focus. "Coming from a state like Rajasthan and getting into water adventure sports has definitely helped the state garner some attention. I feel that the scenario for women wanting to actively participate in sports has improved, but swimming as a separate category still warrants more female participation," says Sharma, who is currently on the lookout for a sponsor.
 
The effervescent young adult isn't an extrovert but loves studying behavioural patterns. "I love observing people from a distance, as it gives me more insight into their motivations. I am currently pursuing my post-graduate degree in communications, but I think psychology makes for a better study as it is at the core of every human expression and relation," she posits.
 
Counting Mary Kom and Sushmita Sen as her idols, she expresses her gratitude to her mother, who being a national-level swimmer herself, understood the concerns that plague every young athlete. "My mother pushes me to do better, even in the literal waters. She never gave up on her dream, and let me decide for myself if I wanted to be part of it," she avers.
 
Growing up, Sharma wasn't a true water baby, but picked it up because she enjoyed the thrill of mastering a drill. "Surprisingly, it wasn't until very recently that I embraced my love for open-water swimming. Prior to this year, I only saw it in terms of projects and targets. Recently, I took a break from my training session, but within a few days I found myself missing the strength of the seas," she says.
 
"Swimming is a guiding factor in my life. It has taught me a lot of things, humility being at the top of that list. I have changed and grown wiThevery open-water swim. Sports, in general, groom a kid in a lot of ways and make them ready for tough times, teach them team spirit, and the zeal to set their goals," she reveals. "Swimming has not only empowered me as a woman, it has also brought me to this stage where I am being interviewed!"

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