In September, Angikar Djorjevic achieved a Channel Triathlon - swimming, cycling and running all the way from Dover to Heidelberg in Germany. Londoner Adam Thornton was his helper on the swim leg of the triathlon and sends this report:
In August, Karteek asked if I would be interested in helping Angikar to swim the English Channel at the start of September. He was then planning to cycle for 500km and run two marathons — all back-to-back, to celebrate Sri Chinmoy's 50th year in the West. “Yes, of course I’ll help!” I jumped at the chance. It was a only a few weeks before that Karteek himself had achieved the awesome feat of his 11th English Channel swim, supported by Bahumanya and Devashishu, and I was sorry I had not been able to help too. Besides, I love being by water, and what better than being at sea? I later found out that Mahasatya was also asked to help and he, too, said yes. Angikar had also asked two Serbian friends to help him – Boris and Martin. Boris had swum the Channel four times already and he was training to be an official observer for the Channel Swimming Association, which means he will have the authority to ratify a successful Channel swim.
So it was early (very early) on Saturday morning, 6 September, that Mahasatya and I found ourselves being picked up somewhere in London by Boris (Martin already in tow) so we could be in Dover for 4:30 am to meet Angikar, who had arrived the day before. For me, the joy of the day started with the drive down to Dover. I decided to see if Boris was up for chatting. He was, and it wasn’t long before I found out that he had rowed for Oxford in the Boat Race (3 times—that’s quite special) and won once! As an avid ex-rower myself this made for a very entertaining journey, chatting about all things rowing!
But today was about swimming, and soon we arrived in Dover and met a very joyful Angikar, clearly ready for his journey across to France. After meeting with the boat pilot (James) and official observer (Mike), we all got on the boat and headed off in the dark to Shakespeare Beach, the spiritual home of the start of the English Channel swim. We stopped about 50 metres from the beach, and Angikar readied himself to go.
Angikar, freshly greased up to help protect against the cold water, was clearly in the mood for a successful channel swim. SPLOSH!! He jumped off the boat into the water (“Oooh, it’s cold!”) and swam to the shore from which his swim must begin. Soon he was out of sight in the dark, the only thing visible were two small green lights, attached to his swimming cap and shorts.
The moment Angikar took to pray and meditate on the beach was powerful. The whole crossing felt protected; later that day, when we were half way across the Channel, Boris commented that it felt like being in a dream. Then Angikar walked back into the water, dived in, and started his epic journey.
At this point there was a flurry of activity on the boat as we realised that not only had Angikar’s job begun, but ours had too. Every half an hour he would need feeding with a special salt-free energy drink (he would be drinking enough salt from the sea). He had brought a suitcase full of drinks, gels, homeopathic remedies, and other potions to support him along the way. One important point is that the swimmers are not allowed to touch the boat; it is considered a help, and they would not therefore be swimming using only their own energy. So when we give energy drinks, etc. to Angikar we have to lower the bottle over the side of the boat on a string, and he must eat or drink while treading water. This could be difficult, but he had clearly mastered the art.
And so it continued: every 30 minutes, stroke after stroke, hour after hour, throughout the early morning as the hazy sun rose above the sea, up to midday, through the afternoon, into the evening, as the dark night descended, we would distract Angikar from his swimming-meditation and give him something to eat.
We were busy on the boat and there was always someone keeping a watchful eye on Angikar, but there was also time for us to chat amongst ourselves, to have a look around the boat, to have a nap, take photographs, and just sit in the pleasant sunshine, looking around the empty sea and meditate on its vastness.
A striking realisation I had during all of this was that whatever we were doing, however much time we spent entertaining ourselves or doing this and that, Angikar was swimming, and swimming, and swimming, minute after minute, hour after hour. Of course, it sounds obvious to say that, but when your mind is distracted by other activities onboard, and 15 or 20 minutes have quickly gone by, or you had a sleep for 40 minutes, suddenly we became aware that this whole time Angikar was still swimming. It was a humbling experience.
Eventually the sun started to set and we entered twilight. It was about 7:30pm and Angikar had been swimming for about 14 hours. It was impressive that he had not changed his stroke rate. During the whole distance he had been swimming at 48 strokes per minute. I was told that is a good sign, for a successful swim. Boris had warned us that as the swimmer approaches the three-quarter mark this is the time the support team must particularly be on their guard for the swimmer. It is around here that swimmers often tire, and the fatigue of the body and the resistance of the mind start to become strong. So the team must ensure feeds are regular, reliable, and efforts are made to keep the swimmer positive. We did this, but Angikar was doing well.
However, as the night fell and Mahasatya and I were alone on the deck feeding Angikar, he admitted he was struggling, and asked us to sing The Invocation (a song that Sri Chinmoy composed in 1967, and considered the spiritually highest of his songs) for him; this was a very beautiful moment. Singing The Invocation on a boat in the English Channel, I could feel Sri Chinmoy's presence come more to the fore, and Angikar later told us that it had helped him considerably.
It was fully dark as we approached France but the moon was almost full and we could clearly make out the silhouette of the land. Not far to go now; Boris was preparing himself to get in the water to accompany Angikar the last 500 yards to the small secluded beach we could just see with the aid of a powerful spotlight on the boat. Soon he was in the water and, together, they swam off into the dark. All we could see was their small green lights, until, suddenly the lights rose about six feet off the water. They had stood up, on solid ground. Angikar had done it! Such a mix of joy and relief!