I was extremely fortunate to have the incredible opportunity to be part of a 4-person NZ/Czech relay swim of the English Channel. Our swim was dedicated to Sri Chinmoy’s 50 years of service in the West, so our official name was the Sri Chinmoy Golden Jubilee Team.
In the Dover swimming community the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team is very well known because of our legendary pioneer solo swimmers, Vasanti, Vijaya, Karteek and others. It was a great honour to be connected to these great champions in some small way.
Being in Dover was a thrilling experience! We had many opportunities to look out over the famous white cliffs offsetting the beautiful, powerful, inviting yet dauntingly intimidating stretch of water known as ‘The English Channel” or “La Manche” in France.
We trained in the harbour and met many channel swimmers from all over the world- some retired and many preparing for their own challenging journey. It is a wonderful experience that sport gives us, linking together individuals from almost unimaginably different worlds with the common goal of what we know so well as self-transcendence, in all its shapes and forms. And as Sri Chinmoy taught us in many ways, this one commonality gives life to a beautifully rich and heartfelt community spirit, where every person’s role and goal is given great value, respect and encouragement.
As the date of our window to swim was upon us, the weather was not looking agreeable. Our pilot was hesitant due to an entire season of almost constantly unrelenting wind and waves. We decided to wait, but were woken by a text at 1am the next day saying conditions had changed and he was willing to take us. We unanimously agreed to go for it, which meant being at the boat at 12pm…knowing this made it pretty hard to go back to sleep!
We boarded Gallivant and headed straight to Shakespeare beach to drop off Abhejali, the fastest and most experienced member of our team. She swam to shore, meditated for a moment, and the relay officially began!
The water was calm, the sun was shining, and leaving the harbour the conditions seemed idyllic. We were all swimming for one hour at a stretch. The CSPF had an official observer on board, and we had 3 experienced pilots, so we knew we were in good hands. Our head pilot, Mike Oram, has guided many Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team swimmers to France.
We also had two wonderful helpers, Haribala from Czech Republic, and Bahula from New York. Bahula immortalised herself in the Dover swimming community some years back when she was helping Vijaya. As a super enthusiastic helper, she lent a little too far over the side and fell in the water! It was Mike who reached over and pulled her back in.
After Abhejali, Jayalata swam second, then it was my turn… I stood on the edge of the boat for the countdown..30 seconds, 20, 10, go!! I leapt off the edge into the great stretch of Ocean, and started swimming.
I had not noticed that the waves had risen in size and also become considerably more uneven as a cross wind picked up the surface chop. I felt increasingly grateful for a lifetime of swimming in the Ocean, as pool training is of little value in these conditions. I wondered if I was actually moving forward at all, and staying next to the boat is harder than you would think in the swells, but all you can do is keep swimming! The hour went surprisingly fast and I was signalled to head to the ladder as our forth swimmer, Ritadyumna, jumped in.
Back in the boat my main tasks were getting warm, trying not to get seasick, eating and drinking. Fortunately for me I largely escaped seasickness- the other girls were not so lucky!
By my second swim the sun was already beginning to set. A glow stick was attached to my swimsuit and there was a big spotlight from the boat so I felt pretty safe, I also felt more confident. I knew I could stay in for an hour without freezing, and I knew what I had to do- swim as fast as possible towards France!
This experience really encapsulated the goal of living spirituality for me. There was no time for self doubt, no time to worry what anyone else was thinking, I just had to jump into a seemingly beginningless and endless expanse of water and do my very best- focus only on the boat and have unquestioning faith that the captain was leading us to the destination.
I also got a lot of joy and strength from being part of a team. There was no option to consider quitting- I could not let the team down, and I knew they all felt the same way!
After about 15 hours the lights of France came into view- what a thrill! There was no stopping us now! We were expertly guided towards the shore and Abhejali, our great champion who stayed so strong and cheerful despite unrelenting seasickness throughout the journey, swam the final stretch, making our official time 16 hours and 34 minutes!
We are all so grateful for the experience, to our incredible helpers Bahula and Haribala, to the unimaginable amount of people around the world who watched and encouraged us, and most of all to Sri Chinmoy for giving us the inspiration and courage to do something so special in honour of his dedication to humanity’s loftiest goals of individual and collective happiness and peace.
If we believe in our own self-transcendence-task,
Then there can be no unreachable goal.
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