Youngest Woman to Swim The Antarctic, India’s Bhakti Sharma, On Getting Cold Feet

Posted on February 27, 2015

By Bhakti Sharma:

What is it like to break the world record for swimming in the Antarctic Ocean?

There is no ‘best way‘ to write this answer, because the feeling is simply indescribable.

To start with, the first glimpse of the Antarctic Peninsula (which is where the swim took place) is very intimidating. No amount of training can prepare you for the magnificent beauty, which is in all its glory, so frightening. There is ice everywhere, and you ask yourself silently every single moment – how am I ever going to swim here?

Picture Credit: Bhakti Sharma on Quora
Picture Credit: Bhakti Sharma on Quora

The day arrived, and I prepared myself to take the plunge of my life. We chose a place to swim a night before, based on two main factors – there should be no Leopard Seals around and not too much ice in the water. But as we were preparing to disembark from the ship, the expedition team spotted two Leopard Seals exactly where they had wanted me to swim. So we waited for two hours and decided to start the swim far away from the place where the seals were. This did not ensure that I would not be attacked by them, but it surely created a lot of distance between the team and I, which was the best we could do.

Throughout the swim, the team was on constant surveillance of the area to know the whereabouts of those seals.

At 5:05pm (Antarctica time) I started my swim, aiming to create a new world record. To my surprise, the first reaction of my body hitting the one-degree-Celsius water was not hyperventilation, but the aversion to extreme saltiness. The water was very salty, and my discomfort was also heightened because the last swim I had done in a sea was 4 years back.

Picture Credit: Bhakti Sharma on Quora
Picture Credit: Bhakti Sharma on Quora

To be honest, for the first 5 minutes I thought that I was not going to make it. But, then I remembered the words from a poem that a friend had sent me before I left for this expedition, “Stick to the fight when you are hardest hit, it’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.” So repeating these words like a mantra, I continued to swim. And, as if the universe was trying to validate my efforts and acknowledge my pain, I saw a penguin swimming beside me. It was to my left and often came right in front of me making me smile. Trust me, when I say that in a situation like this, where you are fighting the fight of your dreams as if your entire existence depends on it, if you see something as cute as a penguin, you will end up taking it as a sign to go on with all your might. It’s not every day that a penguin comes to cheer you up.

So I continued, and 41.14 minutes later, when I made the decision to end the swim, my team pulled me out on the Zodiac and tried their best to keep me awake. I was hypothermic, and they rushed me to the cruise ship where my recovery process started, which lasted for 3 hours. So, it was only 3 hours later that I came to know that I had made the world record of being the youngest swimmer in the world to swim in Antarctica and also the longest distance that has ever been covered there – 2.28Kms.

Picture Credit: Bhakti Sharma on Quora
Picture Credit: Bhakti Sharma on Quora

The feeling you ask? It was sheer bliss. Not happiness, not pleasure, not joy, but bliss.

The entire journey was so difficult – starting right from the logistics to arranging sponsors to practicing in ice cold water every day. But it was all worth it. Not only because it is a world record, but also because it was my dream. And it came true. No matter what your dreams are, however big or small, you will experience what I am feeling today – when you work for them and see them come true.

I recovered after 3 hours and went straight to the dining hall of the ship to my small family of 150 people on-board to be welcomed by a standing ovation. So, it was pretty awesome to break a world record in Antarctica. Thanks for asking.

This was an answer written by Bhakti Sharma to this question on Quora.

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