Acing The Antarctic: A Chat With Bhakti Sharma – Let's Be Outdoorsy

Acing The Antarctic: A Chat With Bhakti Sharma

Her latest achievement is a world record of the longest distance swimming 2.28 kms in the freezing waters of Antarctica. With that, Bhakti Sharma became the youngest swimmer in the world and first swimmer from Asia to swim in Antarctica on January 10th, 2015. In conversation with LBO, Bhakti shares her story.

Bhakti Sharma
Jump right in, tell us how this story started?
At 2.5 years of age, I was introduced to deep waters by my mother and first coach, Leena Sharma. Being a pro swimmer herself, she helped me train in pools and open waters. Over the years, together we swam across a few oceans together too.

“Mom and I share a world record together for the first mother-daughter pair to swim across the English Channel.”

It has taken over twenty years of hard work, but I am now the youngest female swimmer in the world to swim in all 5 oceans (Indian, Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic and Antarctica) and the 7 seas.

You are an inspiration to many in the millennial generation, but what’s the funniest question you were ever asked?
That’s the question that many think of but only one or two gather the will to ask. Question of all questions- how do you pee when you are swimming for such long periods!

Bhakti Sharma and Crew in Antarctica
Women (Indian women especially) have image issues; probably why many keep away from swimming. Would you agree? Your thoughts on this issue.

Yes it is true. The most common reasons people quit swimming or don’t want to learn is because they are scared that it will affect their complexion. Even parents put their kids into swimming at a young age but as they grow up, they tend to withdraw them worrying about the skin and tanning etc.
On 22nd February, 2008 for example, my friend Priyanka Gehlot, me and my mother covered a distance of 72 Kms in 16 Hours and 58 minutes from Dharamtal to Gateway of India and back again, creating a first of its kind record of long distance swimming in India. None of us would have achieved that if my parents or I had worried about image issues. I have been tanned all my life but it was worth it. I still have to deal with the occasional, “Now enough of swimming, focus on your studies” or “You have already received the Presidential award, what more do you want to achieve, and what about marriage?” I am yet to understand why am I expected to choose between my swimming dreams and marriage; it will happen as and when the time comes, but until then I have my training to focus on.

Training Fun Fact:
As part of a practice session, on 4th Feb 2010 Bhakti swam in a swimming pool that contained 12,500 Kgs of ice.

What’s the next big challenge?
Open water swimming has been a part of the Olympics since 2008 and I have my eyes on that prize. I am currently undergoing sports rehab, building shoulder strength and will soon begin training for the Olympics in 2020. I am also working on my first book about my swimming career.

Bhakti Sharma with the crewWhat do you think, are Indians Outdoorsy?
Not as much as people in other countries are but we are reaching there pretty fast. I have a paragliding course under my belt, even though I haven’t pursued that further, I like the idea of learning more outdoor sports.

Between Mumbai and Rajasthan and other cities across India, what’s your take on swimming infrastructure in India?
I believe everyone does not have access to sport facilities/ training in the country and hence we are not as much of a sporting nation as compared to other nations. Yes that’s unfortunate. To be able to swim at a national scale, one has to move to either Bangalore or Mumbai or probably Delhi. The infrastructure and coaches are limited to these cities. Therefore, a lot of talent is going waste since there is nobody to nurture it. The state of open water swimming is even worse. The infrastructure facilities are still developing in other cities. What we need desperately is more trained coaches in every state.

And how are the waters out there? Have you seen the effects of global warming/ human encroachment affecting the waters?
I didn’t need to go very far to see this. My first sea swim was in the Arabian Sea at Mumbai and the water was so murky. At the shore were infinite number of plastic bags, bottles etc. Also the oil from ships and ferries polluted the water. It could be a similar scene everywhere but the people are very strict when it comes to things like these abroad. For example, I wasn’t allowed to throw in the sea the disposable glass that I used to sip water during my open water swim. I threw it back on the boat and all the garbage was disposed of properly back on land.

Triathlons are the latest trend for endurance sport enthusiasts in India. Have you thought of participating in one?
No the thought hasn’t crossed my mind yet. Probably because I can’t run to save my life.

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