Of the 415 registered participants, 319 turned up to participate in the six-kilometre-long annual navy day Open Sea Swimming competition 2013 organised by the western naval command Indian Navy. According to Federation International de Nation rules (FINA), only swimmers who are medically fit and have had previous swimming experience are allowed to participate.
There were 40 boats, 150 divers and 60 lifeguards observing the waters, and other volunteers for the safety of all participants. There were 13 naval officers and sailors of the western naval command present to make the event successful. The swimmers boarded three ferries and the categories -- Women’s, Girls’, Men’s, Boy’s, Differently-abled and Veterans, were formed for the competition. The starting point was Prongs Reef, in Colaba and the finish line was at the landing jetty at Indian Naval Watermanship Training Centre (INWTC).
Swapnil Patil, 16, won in the differently-abled category. The Kolhapur resident said, "I have been swimming since seven years. I am appearing for my SSC this year. I won last year, too, butit was tougher this time because the tide was rather high.”
Parth Hendre, a 19-year-old Bachelor of Arts student from Mithibai College and resident of Andheri, came 11th this year in the same. Hendre suffers from Spina Bifida with hydrocephalus since birth. He can only walk with support of Ankle Foot Orthosis, (AFO). Parth started learning swimming at the age of three, and has swam 12 km from the Gateway of India to Elephanta caves in 6 hours and 12 minutes.
Hendre says he faces different challenges as compared to someone who cannot speak or hear. “When a deaf and mute swimmer reaches the jetty landing, s/he can run to the finish line and register his/her time. But in my case, when I reached the jetty, I have to wait for the naval officials to come to me with a wheelchair to help me reach finish line and register my timing. Today, I found the waves to be quite strong, and I found it difficult to see the finish line from a distance.”
Kolhapur resident Nikita Prabhu, 15, won in the girls’ category. She said, “This time, the current was too strong and I may have taken longer than usual, but it was all worth it.”
Bhojraj Meshram, 60, who won the veteran category, is a retired plan operator, Aarey dairy and Nagpur resident. He said, “I started swimming at the age of 14 and have won the Maharashtra State All India Civil Services swimming competitions. I swim for five km every day. I also teach swimming to young children in Nagpur.”
Bakulaben Patel, 70, was awarded with a certificate for being the eldest swimmer. Patel is from Gujarat and has won six goldmedals in swimming and athletic competitions. Patel, said, “I was taught swimming by my community back home. I have always practiced in rivers, not in swimming pools. But swimming in the sea was a different experience, as one has to swim with strong waves. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”