#18 TRENDING IN Personal Growth 🔥

Here's How Bhakti Sharma Swam in Antarctic Waters for 41 Minutes

Personal Growth

Wed, April 24

Bhakti Sharma has always been around water. She first entered the water when she was just two and a half years old. A core memory, both exhilarating and traumatizing. She recounted, “I was just crying, and I remember gulping down a lot of water.” Nevertheless, Bhakti persisted, and her swimming career blossomed into open-water events - swimming competitions that take place in oceans, lakes, and other open waters.

Unfortunately, her first memory wasn't so sweet either. “I decided to do a swim in Mumbai, and my coach decided that I needed some experience,” Bhakti detailed. “So, he took me to this famous beach - Juhu Beach - and hired a fisherman to keep his boat in front of me so that I could follow. That was my first experience in the ocean, and I felt so alone.”

Courtesy of Bhakti Sharma

But Bhakti improved significantly, and at just 14 years of age, she braved her first open water swim in the Indian Ocean from Uran Port to the Gateway of India monument in Mumbai - a distance of nearly 10 miles. Three years later, she muscled through the English Channel (almost 14 hours of arduous swimming) and won the prestigious Lake Zurich Swim a month later.

“As a teenager and young adult, being able to travel to all these new places really kept me going. It helped me get through some difficult times,” she reminisced. "Even when I was doing competitive swimming, the practice sessions were so brutal. You train and train for months. But then you get to the part when you travel to another state, city, and meet new people.”

However, Bhakti didn't just meet new people - she also found her new identity. If you spend hours swimming in an oceanic expanse alone, you get to learn a few things about yourself. She explained, “The biggest gift that open water swimming gave me was I was forced to spend so much time with myself.

I've learned about myself in ways that wouldn't be possible otherwise. I still struggle with sitting 5 minutes alone by myself. I reach out for my phone. So, having two or up to fourteen hours in a water body allowed me to attain my self-discovery. It's about crossing mental obstacles and barriers.”

Courtesy of Bhakti Sharma

And like any journey, Bhakti's came awash with obstacles and barriers. Her biggest break from swimming came after her undergrad. She was tired from the constant swimming in her adolescence and teens, so she decided to do an MBA completely on her own.

She didn't swim for two years because her college didn't have a pool, but her then-unknown open-water dream still floated in her head. With time, Bhakti realized what she really wanted to do, and what her true destination was.

To swim in Antarctica.

Throughout Bhakti's journey, her mother (also her coach) stood by her side, but Bhakti wanted to diverge. “A lot of the things I did in my childhood weren't my dreams, but wishes I inherited,” Bhakti admitted. “But as I got older, I realized that Antarctica was my passion project. My goal was to swim in all 5 oceans. And I thought, ‘I don’t want to regret not accomplishing my passion for the rest of my life.”

Of course, if you want to swim in subzero temperatures, you must prepare. Therefore, Bhakti quit her job and moved back to her hometown, Udaipur, for the strenuous months-long training process. She started conditioning her mind to the frigidity in a plastic kiddie pool filled with over a ton of ice. As her mental stamina blossomed, she restructured her regimen to taking laps in a longer pool with ice slabs afloat.

Courtesy of Bhakti Sharma

Recalling the grueling training, she said, “I got back into swimming because the idea of challenging myself was missing from whatever I was doing. I realized how big swimming is in my identity. I missed challenging myself and working towards a goal bigger than myself.”

Then, after the rigorous preparation, the time arrived. Her Antarctic swim. In a video that captures the record-breaking moment, her mother chants a mantra before Bhakti plunges into the riplet-strewn waters. She begins her strokes as a boat follows her, and a team of supporters shout instructions and directions. Towering glaciers and ice-capped mountains dominate the skyline, and sometimes, blocks of ice drifting in the diaphanous water cause her to veer left and right.

Courtesy of Bhakti Sharma

How did Bhakti not give up?

The temperature that she swam in was a gelid 34 degrees Fahrenheit. For me, I struggle to enter a pool even on the sultriest of days. It's blazingly cold at first, and the seemingly polar water bites at my legs.

It takes a solid 10 minutes for me to climb the steps into the pool, and a couple more to really start swimming. Bhakti could've just stopped after a couple of strokes, called it a day, and taken a warm shower; the boat was just a couple of strokes away. Instead, she thought, "I knew that I was feeling like I wanted to give up because I was in a very stressful environment - sub-zero temperature water, salty, and I knew everything was external. The difficulty was all around me, and that's what I knew I had signed up for when I started preparing.”

After swimming for 41 minutes, she slowed her pace and stopped. If I could describe her expression in one word, it’d be exhausted. Her shoulders and elbows were frosted with glistening ice, and she gasped for air as someone tugged her taxed body onto the dinghy.

At that moment, she probably didn't realize she had become the first Asian woman and youngest person to set an open swimming record in Antarctic waters. She finally accomplished her dream, after such intense hard work and perseverance over years.

Courtesy of Bhakti Sharma

Despite Bhakti's lengthy aquatic accomplishments, she still finds herself lost. “You spend your entire life chasing something, and when it's done, you're like, ‘now what?’ You were so hyper-focused on something, and yes, it's a great happiness. But life keeps going, and you have to keep going on with your life. It's very difficult with getting back up on the horse and finding a new goal. And after my Antarctica swim, I had a huge low,” Bhakti shared.

Now that Bhakti has been readjusting to a new norm, she went on to attain a master's and doctoral degree at the University of Florida, where she focused on mindfulness and meditation technologies. She has also started motivational speaking, giving TED Talks and imparting her lessons through other speaking platforms. Her story is a testament to finding your own path and dreams and the importance of perseverance. Records may be broken, but Bhakti's resilience won't.

Dev Shah
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I am a high school sophomore living in Largo, Florida. My goal as a journalist and interviewer is to help our generation of teenagers by providing inspirational writing and exploring complex topics. I focus on mental health, self-love, entertainment reviews, and narrative experiences. My work has been published in The Washington Post, Tampa Bay Times, Fortune Magazine, Education Week, and more local papers. I use my experiences as the 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion to guide my writing and pieces, and my vast verbal knowledge to best articulate my thoughts.