The first thing that makes me sad is that I have to write this story which is mine; myself.
I am an international open water swimmer from Rajasthan (yes! the desert state) and I am the youngest swimmer in the world, first swimmer from Asia and first swimmer from India
to have swam in 4 oceans (India, Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic) covering 8 different water bodies (seas and channels).
My mother and I are the first combination in the world of mother and daughter to swim across the English Channel (the Mecca of open water swimming). We swam in a relay of three swimmers (all females) which was also a first from Asia. I have also been awarded the President's Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award
in water adventure which also a first from my state.
My next swim is in Antarctica which is going to be a world record of swimming the longest distance in the world's coldest continent and most mysterious water body.
Despite the list of so many firsts and world records, I am not getting sponsors for my Antarctica swim. The budget is almost peanuts compared to what we spend in one cricket match in this country or the amount we put in holding up statues of politicians. My own state Govt. doesn't recognize my achievements under the category of Sports as all the swims I have done are on an individual level (obviously because we don't have an open water swimming organization).Talent Management companies have refused to take up my profile and the campaign as it does not have "enough market value".
The completion of my next swim would not only put India on the world map in a completely different light, but I am also doing this swim in association with an NGO and helping tribal orphan girls through this swim. And still, sponsors or support is nowhere to be seen.Today was my deadline to pay the initial deposit of my bookings for the trip
and I don't know if they will give me some more time to arrange for funds. And I don't know if I will have to put my dream; of making my nation proud; to rest. But I thought that I should share my story with all of you out there so that everybody knows the struggle of a sportsperson in this country. The sheer lack of awareness and incapability to think beyond the obvious sports and competitions, the torture of bureaucracy, the state of sports persons in this country and most of all the habit of measuring everything in terms of market value in this country is what disheartens me.
Hey guys. I am overwhelmed by the response to this answer. Thanks a lot! I had set up a crowd-funding page on ketto which is now over. But I'll be restarting it soon and would definitely share the link here. In the meantime for the latest news about the swim, you can visit Bhakti Sharma
Thank you all for the wonderful support. Keeping my fingers crossed.
Added later in response to a comment by @Barbara Holladay - Vernon.
I am 24 and I started swimming when I was two and a half years old so I have been basically swimming all my life. My mother introduced me to the sport since she was a swimmer herself. She started teaching me at a pool in a local hotel as we didn't have any commercial pools back then. I belong to a small city named Udaipur in Rajasthan. We had to stop going to the pool as people found it odd for the mother-daughter to go to a hotel's pool. So I took up Karate and trained to be a Brown Belt. When I was about 8 years old, a pool opened up in a school in our city and I started practicing there.
See swimming is an inexpensive sport in most parts of the world but in India, especially in my state, we hardly have any proper pools even in urban areas. Also, we experience winter for at least 4 months of the year and due to the lack of an all season pool, we had to stop practice during those winter months. So whatever progress we made during other months, was put to a standstill and we had to start all over again in summer. This made it very difficult to compete with the best swimmers at National levels who used to practice all year round. I participated in a lot of state and national level competitions. Bagged individual championship at CBSE Nationals for 3 consecutive years. And when I was 14, my mother told me whatever little she knew about English Channel. I got interested and started training for it. That's how I did my first sea swim when I was 14 at Mumbai in the Arabian sea. You can watch the video here -
I have never had any professional training for open water swimming. My coach in Mumbai is an excellent coach for competitive pool swimming, but I was his first open water student and he tried a trial and error method training for a short period. But apart from that, my mother guided me regarding stroke improvement and breathing techniques whatever little she knew. I had never heard of words like currents, tides, under water currents etc. until very late in my journey. And I am still unaware of a lot of technicalities that go into a sea swim. I built up my stamina to swim for 13 hrs 50 mins (which is how long it took for me to swim the English Channel) by swimming for 8 hrs a day without a technique. So it would be fair for me to say that al my swims have been 60% mental work and 40% physical strength.
I am currently training in a lake in my city (again without a coach) and once I have my funds sorted, I can take off to colder regions of the country like Himachal Pradesh to train and prepare myself for the 0-2degrees water temperature in Antarctica. I have done all my swims in normal Speedo suits i.e I do not use wet suits and this swim is going to be no different. Hence, the stakes are pretty high.
This swim's budget is high because there is only way to reach the site of the swim and that is via a cruise ship, the tickets are expensive. I also need a doctor in my team to take care of Hypothermia and Cardiac arrest. The water is freezing cold there and the risk of getting hypothermia attack is extremely high. Shockingly, I am not able to find a doctor too, in spite of us agreeing to pay for all his/her expenses.
As far as my family goes, I have an amazingly supportive family. My mother is a strong, dedicated and "give nothing less than 100%" attitude woman, and my father, a sportsman himself, is a calm and patient man. One thing they both have in common which I have learnt is their strong will power. While my mother was never afraid of traveling with me all by herself to a completely foreign land, my father is the strong pillar that keeps us all standing tall by keeping his faith in us. They have paid for all my swims till date by exhausting their bank balance, taking loans, using my mother's retirement funds and what not. I could not have been where I am without them. I also have younger brother who is 13 years old and the biggest joy in my life. Here are a few pictures of me and my family. :-)
My mother and I receiving the Kelvinator Gr8! Women Awards by Indian Television Academy.
My father almost in tears at the event. He is a very shy and introvert person.
My first TED X talk at SIBM Bangalore.
Sea is my best friend and the greatest teacher.