Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Swimming the English Channel

By Harsh Thakor
Commemorating 29 years of Swimming the English Channel-a feat I accomplished on August 22nd 1988 exactly 29 years ago, on this very day. In the year 1988 I became the 16th Indian to achieve the feat of Conquering Swimming's Mount Everest -The English Channel. My previous passions in my childhood and school days were Horse Racing and Cricket. However I pursued this goal with will power and self-determination I never exerted before. Its a treacherous stretch of water, one of the busiest shipping routes in the World. Less people have conquered the Channel than those who have gone into space or conquered Mount Everest. It’s a Treacherous stretch of water ,one of the busiest shipping routes in the world .Those who swim these 21.5 miles must accept that o the way they will swim through sewage, oil slicks and patches of seaweed. They know that the brine will make their tounges and throats swell ,making breathing difficult.They know that oif enough salt awter gets inti the stomach ,they may throw up.They know that they will have to fight the Chane’s micro-climate ,caused by being sandwiched between 2 water bodies.They know that they musty battle the tides that come and go every 6 hours. Everyone has heard of he swimmer who has been in the water for 10 hours with he French Coast close at hand only to be pulled away by flood tide. But on the chilly morning that I first dipped my body into he Channel, I realized that for a boy from the subcontinent ,it was going to be a battle with the temperature. After a few hours in the water even the best swimmers become confused and are unable to respond to simple questions from the Escort pilot, lips turn blue, bodies shake uncontrollably. Adrian Moorhose, a British Olympic Champ, fresh from the Barcelona Games, lasted only for two and half hours. Quoting Adrian Moorhose.’When I fisrt entered the Channel and attempted to swi I thought I was going to drown.The cold completely knockedthe wind out of me.I could not catch my breath.I was bringing up bile and I ahd a blinding headache. “Long Distance Swimming is a prolonged state of mind.It is you against the elements.It is a rael explorer’s job.You think about keeping your sroke –raete going.You do not think of anything else till something touches your foot. Sprint Swimmers do not realize how hard it is .i may have beeb an Olympic Champion but I terms of the Channel,I am a nobody and I have to respect that.”I virtually roze as the first chilly green waves made contact. But,In had come too far done too much to turn back. To participate in club and inter-collegiate events I trained 4,000metres twice a day.I have strong memories of logging 220laps of the Willingdon Swimming pool in Mumbai in the morning. I would again workout in the evening. I would swim sets of 1,000 metres 4 times within 1and a half hours. I secured 3rd place in the Inter-collegiate swimming in 400 metres Freestyle and 100 metres. I also attained 3rd place in the C.C.I Western India Championships in the 400 and 800 yards freestyle. I was now tutored by Mr. Kishan Singh of P.M. Hindu Bath and Mr. Jadhav at the Bombay Gymkhanna. I had increased my workouts to about 10 to 11km.daily. They would be divided into sessions only kicking, only pulling (Only using Arms) and then swimming intervals of 400 metres or 200 metres each. I qualified for the Maharashta State finishing 7th but couldn't qualify for the Nationals. I had stamina but I had some stroke defects. My debut in sea swimming took place in 1985' swimming Sunk Rock to Gateway of India in 51 mins. I now wanted to cross Uran to Gateway of India. (An island 12 km from Mumbai.) I logged continuous stretches of 6,000 metres twice a day as practice. On the day I cruised along to swim in the then record of 2 hrs 56 mins. It was a most peaceful swim and I felt much more at ease with myself than in the Swimming pool the waves simply seemed to pull me along. The following year in 1986-1987 I was unsuccessful in competitive swimming but in the I.N.S. Hamla to Dadar Chowpatty Swimming race I had one of my major personal triumphs .In the pool I did workouts of 5 km, twice a day. I also did an 8 km swim at a stretch. I finished the 35 Km. course in 10hrs 58 mins. finishing 11th. For most of the race I hardly knew where I was placed and for a prolonged period I was simply awaiting the finish. The guide kept indicating the Finish was around the Corner. However my willpower and determination persisted and I simply trugged along like a machine. In the end I heaved a huge sigh of relief! I now believed I could swim the English Channel. As a trial I did the 35 km stretch from Dharamtar to Gateway of India. I completed it in 9 hrs 44 mins., being under-prepared. This was like a practice swim for the Channel. I simply cruised along with ease. The Following months I logged 12 km a day in y my 50-metre pool. I had no doubts about my stamina. My main objective in crossing the Channel was to prove my worth to the world and make a name. My coach Kishan Singh and I arrived in June. My mother was to come later. At first I found the temperature of the Channel waters unbearable. I simply shivered and took a long time to recover. Gradually I could stay for 20 mins., then an hour and eventually I could do 3-6 hour workouts. (After a month) I would simply blaze in the water and can never forget how I would swim from one end of Dover to the cliff on the other side. Every half an hour or one hour I would take a feed. Through maintaining my diet my mother played a big role in my training fitness. She simply took care of my diet cooking my meals. As a preliminary I participated in the Lake Zurich International Marathon 26 km race. Here I simply swam with the utmost determination. For long periods I felt the end was coming and I seemed to be wearing down. However that inner courage won the day for me and finally I was relieved to see the end. My mental strength won the day for me. On the same day as my Zurich Lake swim two Indian Swimmers created a record becoming the youngest ever boy and youngest Asian female respectively. Abhijeet Rao at 11 years became the youngest ever to cross the Channel , while Naina Malhapurkar became the youngest Asian. On the same day as me Rajaram Ghag, a polio-affected victim was to attempt the Channel. A day before my attempt a major tragedy had occurred Renata Agomdi, a Brazilian Champion who had just won the Capri-Naple International Marathon died of hypothermia. The cause was that her body had not acclimatized itself to the Channel waters. After 9 hrs she was lifted out dead. It was one of swimming sport's saddest moments. I was 99% sure I would cross the Channel. I understood my endurance and reserves of physical and mental strength. On August 22nd I started my expedition. For the first 6 hours I was cruising. I could see the cliffs of Calais and the end seemed a formality. However then a storm broke out. With determination I chugged along kike a machine. I was deter determined to fight the battle till the very end like a soldier fighting to the very end in a war .I had not only to tap the highest reserves of my physical energy but also my mental determination. After 12 -13hrs I felt the end was almost there but I was battling with the waters. Up to 14 hrs I was still fully conscious. However after that my mind was slowly going into a state of semi-unconsciousness. The end was just round the corner. After 15 hrs 2 mins. I rolled over the Calais beach crawling not realizing the end had come. My mother eventually told me the swim was over and affectionately I kissed her. But for her care I would never have made it. After that I was dragged into the boat where I simply feel asleep. On getting up after an hour my mother informed me I had made it. More than the physical battle I had won the spiritual battle. More than my mind it was my heart that won the day! That day I had made swimming history in some quarters. I had become the first student of the Famous Eplphinstone College and Cathedral and John Connon school as well as the first Pransukhlal and Mafatlal Swimming Bath member to achieve this feat. Tingoo Khatau, India's champion failed in 3 attempts, so did other greats. That year the swimmers from India who failed included Manoj Erande who broke the Dharamtar-Bombay Swim record timing swimming the distance in 7 hrs 52 mins. as well as Khasnis who followed Erande. On returning I was headline news in the sports pages such as 'Harsh Swims the Channel against Odds". I was feted by the PM. Hindu Bath Swimming Club being the first swimmer to successfully complete the Channel from the Club. Four Champions from that pool had failed. Test Cricketer Sandeep Patil congratulated me and my name was mentioned in the paper's as a 'Hindu Bath's hero." I was touched, shaking hands with a great childhood idol who had shattered the bowling of Bob Willis and Dennis Lillee. Six years later Sunil Gavaskar praised the feat of crossing the Channel as a proof of one's self-determination . I was called to my school to make a speech. Here I told the young students the strength of mental determination over just physical strength. I accepted my achievement within it’s stride. I would love to equate the story of Swimming the Channel with the goals people strive o achieve in all fields of life. The ultimate winner was he mental tenacity. In the final analysis the end was the winer. To have achieved the feat in the time of Mihir Sen was one of Sport’s Super achievement s.O ne could write a book on Mihir Sen crossing the 7 straits in that time. For Rupali Repale to come up fro such a poor background and achieve this feat is another story. The story of her hurried last –minute preparation schedule could be a book.The same could be said of the polio affected Rajaram Ghag. Anita Sood’s superlative effort of swimming it in 8hrs 15 mins. was an all-time great effort in Marathon Swimming. I hope this story will inspire the youngsters in achieving goals in log-distance swimming or in any field. The power of the inner spirit is simply unconquerable!

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A photo of the English Channel. 

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