When it comes to aquatics, India does not have much to boast about on the international arena, and unfortunately, when there are sparks of talent, financial support becomes a challenge. This discouraging situation has not deterred Bhakti Sharma, the 26-year-old Mumbai-based long-distance swimmer, who set a record in long distance swimming in the Antarctic Ocean last year.

Sharma has set a world record of being the youngest person to swim in the Antarctic Ocean and completed 2.28 km  in 41.14 minutes to set a world record
Sharma has set a world record of being the youngest person to swim in the Antarctic Ocean and completed 2.28 km  in 41.14 minutes to set a world record

The swimmer, who was awarded the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award in 2010, has always found it difficult to gather funds for her training but never let it discourage her.

Now, she is going the crowdfunding way. With a campaign through the website, Fuel a Dream, she hopes to gather R 2.30 lakh which will ensure that she can train to represent India in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Swim the tide
The campaign is 72 days away from its deadline with a collection of R 1,42,100 till the time of going to press. Sharma's cause received a huge catapult when maestro AR Rahman recently tweeted about her efforts egging people to support her. Optimistic about the crowdfunding decision, she says she came across the option while looking for funds to train for her Antractic swim.
"Last year, when I was trying to get sponsors for the Antarctica swim and failing at it, I started researching options online. I came across a few stories of artists and entrepreneurs mostly who had raised funds this way. This is how I got introduced to this wonderful concept," she recounts, and adds, "More people need to know that there is this amazing option available to them to help them through their financial struggles."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi  met her last year  and discussed her future plans
Prime Minister Narendra Modi met her last year and discussed her future plans

The swimmer, who now trains in a Juhu club, grew up in Udaipur where the situation was not very conducive to competitive swimming. "In Rajasthan, we didn't have an all-season swimming pool and all the pools shut down after October till next February-March, for winters. But in order to better my performance at the national level, my mother used to request pool owners, sometimes even resort owners, to not empty their pools in winter or at least till the time I practised, which usually lasted till November end or December first week," she recalls.

Bhakti Sharma
Bhakti Sharma

Channel to success
It was during one such winter practice session that her mother asked her if she would be interested in open swimming (or long distance swimming) in the cold English Channel and she decided to go for it. The culmination of her journey till now was when she completed a distance of 2.28km in 41.14 minutes.

"It was the most beautiful experience of my life. Not just the swim but simply being there in Antarctica. The swim itself was quite painful at the beginning because as I jumped in, the salinity of the water hit me. It made it very hard to pull through each stroke. But then, I remembered a poem my friend had sent me when I was training for the swim, and the lines were, 'Don't give up when you are hardest hit. Rest if you must but do not quit.' I started reciting this as a mantra and focused on taking one stroke at a time," she recounts.

Ranganath Thota, the founder of FuelADream.com says he is very happy that Sharma's appeal has found response through the website. Before this, the website has supported different initiatives including that to build a canal in Horti, Maharashtra.
"The idea of the website is to not just to raise funds but it is a reassurance that there are people who believe in your cause and you are not alone. Moreover, you build a support base for yourself. So, the next time Bhakti is trying to get funds for a project, the right people would already know who she is," he explains.

Sharma explains that instead of aiming for 2016, she is aiming for 2020 to be better prepared. "Open water swimming has been an Olympic sport since 2008. I want to represent India in this event and hopefully, win a medal," she signs off.

Log on to: www.fueladream.com