The Little Mermaid

Chandigarh

Bhakti Sharma is the youngest swimmer to swim across seven seas.

At the Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh, Bhakti Sharma advises her friends, with whom she's come for a leisurely stroll, to first try swimming in the nearby pond before venturing into the deep, cold waters of the lake. Her friends listen to her; after all the 20-year-old is speaking from experience. Sharma is the youngest swimmer in the world to have swum across seven seas, including four oceans, and was also part of the first daughter-mother duo (with her mother Leena Sharma ) to cross the English Channel in 2008. The youngster, though, is thirsty for more. She is training in Chandigarh to accomplish her next target: crossing the Antarctic Ocean by the end of this year.

Sharma started early. Her mother, a former national-level swimmer, began training her when she was two-and-a-half years old. "My mother would take me to the pool at the Laxmi Vilas Hotel in Udaipur (Sharma's hometown). But after two to three years, we had to stop as people had their apprehensions about a woman and her daughter going to the hotel daily. So, we stopped swimming, and I started taking karate and dance classes. Later, when Alok School in Udaipur got a pool, I started swimming again," she says.

It helped that Udaipur has many lakes, and at age seven, Sharma graduated from swimming in a pool to swimming in a lake, or open waters. Training under coach Dilip Singh Chauhan, a young Sharma would learn swimming in a lake near her home, and as she could comfortably swim for two kilometres at a stretch, it was time for her to move to the sea. In 2002, a 10-year-old Sharma saw the sea for the first time — at Juhu, Mumbai — and swam in it with her mother and her mother's batchmate Anita Sood, the first Indian women to cross the English Channel. Sharma trained under coach Prem Gajinker at the Juhu beach and 2004 saw her completing a16-km swim in the Arabian Sea. Two years later, she swam 36 km from the Dharamtar Creek to Gateway of India.

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