Mother-daughter Leena Sharma and Bhakti Sharma of Udaipur enter into Limca Book of Records. Bhakti is now preparing for 2020 Summer Olympics.
At the age of 2 when most kids barely walk, Bhakti started swimming. Now at the age of 22 she has become the world’s youngest open water swimmer to have crossed seven seas, including four oceans; only the third person in the world to have swum across the Arctic Ocean. She is now preparing for 2020 Summer Olympics.
Her mother, Leena Sharma, also a national level swimmer, is her coach and also an equal companion in setting these world records. Their names included in the Limca Book of Records as the only mother-daughter in the world to cross the English Channel. “Crossing the English Channel has always been a dream for both of us. We are very happy with this achievement,” says Leena Sharma. Recalling their first attempt of crossing the English Channel from England to France on July 13, 2008, she points out that due to increased wind speed and waves, they faced physical challenges so they discontinued the swimming that day. After a break of ten days, they again swam on July 23, 2008 and crossed the Channel in 18 hours.
Born in Mumbai and brought up in Udaipur, Bhakti made the local pool her playground. In fact, passion for swimming runs in her veins. Now she is an eight-time Rajasthan State champion in competitive swimming. When she turned 14, her mother suggested her to try open water swimming. After regular practice in Udaipur, they both crossed 72 km in Arabian Sea from Gateway of India in 18 hours, which is still an unbreakable record. Bhakti is also the recipient of Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award 2012 for water adventure.
Recalling the passion for practice prior to crossing the English Channel Bhakti points out, “At a time when most people used to be tucked away in blankets and quilts on cold winter nights, I would be swimming. People called my mother and me crazy. I did it to get my body used to cold water. But these practice sessions were not enough. A month before my scheduled swim in the English Channel, we went to Dover Port, England. I practised in sea water for four hours a day that month.” Bhakti’s tryst with the tidal waters continued even after this feat. In 2010, she went to Iceland to cross the Arctic Ocean. It was dangerous because the water temperature was around six degrees Celsius and there were killer whales to contend with. But on August 9 that year, she became the third person in the world to swim in the Arctic.
Bhakti achieved various milestones in the years that followed. She crossed the Gulf of Mexico – the only Bharateeya to do so – in 2007. Then it was the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. All through these adventures, her mother Leena Sharma has been her constant companion and motivator. Leena Sharma, who had been a sportsperson throughout her school and college years in Mumbai, wanted to become a swimmer but she is content seeing her daughter swim her way to the top. Bhakti was aware of her mother's forgotten dream and was always thinking about doing something for her. “My mother had always egged me on, sitting on the boat with a video camera in hand as I swam,” she recalls. Of course, all of Bhakti’s achievements have come after a lot of sacrifice and hard work. Her mother took voluntary retirement from her bank job to chase Sharma's dreams, even as her father, Chandra Shekhar Sharma, a businessman, chipped in. Loans were taken to felicitate training and travel. “The English Channel swim cost us around Rs 12 lakh. But the timely help by Hindustan Zink Ltd proved a lifeline for us,” points out Leena Sharma.
When Bhakti made a world record by covering a distance of 1.4 miles of Antarctica Ocean in 52 minutes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated her for the outstanding achievement. She along with her mother Leena Sharma, father Chandra Shekhar Sharma and brother Shlok Sharma met Modiji in Delhi on April 27, 2015. Shri Modi was so much impressed by the mother-daughter’s feat that he posted a picture with them on Twitter. —Pramod Kumar