She has a passion for swimming

Water Woman

She won a medal for India at the 10th Asia Pacific age group championship held at Pusan (Korea) in 1996. For any other sportsperson it would have been the beginning of a promising future but for Meenakshi Pahuja it was the phase when she had to give up her international swimming career. 

“The condition was clear– make your professional career first then you can make this come back,” says 36-year-old Pahuja, who is the Assistant Professor, Physical Education, Lady Shri Ram College for Women and also an international swimmer. She has many medals in her kitty except the one which she desperately wanted – crossing the English Channel, an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France. 

“I would describe the Great English Channel as my childhood dream, a suppressed desire. As a child I always wanted to swim across the English Channel but due to circumstances, personal as well as professional, I gave up my international swimming career in 1996. This year due to high tides I could not cross the Channel.”  Interestingly, this was her second attempt to cross the freezing waters of the Channel. After 1996 the inner urge to swim kept pulling me back towards the water.

 “That’s how after a long gap of 10 years I swam 19 km successfully in the river Bhagirathi in the longest (81 km) national championship held at Murshidabad, West Bengal in August 2006. This race gave me the confidence to attempt the 20th international marathon swim held in Switzerland in lake Zurich on the August 5, 2007. The race started from Rapperswill and ended at Zurich. “I covered the distance of 26.4 km successfully in 10 hours and 48 minutes, securing fifth position in the main women’s category,” she says. 

It gave Pahuja psychological strength to file papers for the Great English Channel swim.  “I covered only seven miles in four hours and 14 minutes. I couldn’t complete it because I got seasick,” says Pahuja, who realised that she was not ready for extremely cold, salty and strong current sea water. She was disheartened and the thoughtless remarks by the people made her extremely doleful. People who had no idea about English Channel bluntly made remarks on her like ‘what a shame you could not do it’. 

But that was enough to firm her resolve and prepare herself. She therefore decided to participate in the Indian Navy swimming competition. It was just the beginning for the Indian swimmer on the international front. She became the first Indian to successfully swim five lakes in five days in Tex Robertson High Land Lakes Challenge, Austin, Texas, USA, 2010. 

She also became the first Indian to successfully swim around Key West, Florida, USA, (12.5 miles) and Lake Travis Solo, Austin, Texas, (12 miles), 2011. She also won a bronze medal for crossing Labuan Sea Cross Channel, Malaysia in 2012. and swam around Manhattan Island’s famous New York Channel (28.5 miles) and secured third position in it. 

All these international credentials infused confidence in her to try for the English Channel once again this year. The sudden death of her mother came as an emotional setback but still she had faith in her dreams. She left for London in July but this time high tide played the spoilsport. She swam for more than 14 hours but could not complete it and had to return. 

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