Mumbai : At eight years and seven months, Swapnali Yadav has done India proud. The “Little Mermaid”, as she is popularly known, became the youngest ever swimmer to cross the 30-km Messinikos Gulf in Greece.
As India’s only representative in the 19th World Swimming Marathon, organised by the Greece Swimming Association under the aegis of the Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA), Swapnali joined an elite group of 16 swimmers from around the world. These included 23-year-old Czech English Channel swimmer Cech David and Olympian Ilija.
Given a target of 12 hours to complete the marathon, Swapnali on Sep 1 stunned the world by covering the stretch in an impressive 11 hours 10 minutes.
“Though I have done the Uran-Gateway of India and Dharamtar-Gateway trips (in Mumbai), the experience in Greece was unforgettable. There was a lot to learn and I received so much support from all around. I also was delighted to complete the race in 11 hours 10 minutes, because the organisers set me a 12-hour deadline,” a beaming Swapnali told reporters here Monday.
“I went into the water with a lot of confidence. That comes from my passion for swimming. Moreover, I was swimming with former Olympians and English Channel swimmers, which was very encouraging, and it enhanced my confidence.”
While 14 swimmers, including Swapnali, completed the marathon, 24-year-old Leandro Rios of Argentina and 43-year-old Adel Ibrahim of Egypt dropped out midway.
“I knew I had to finish the race. I trained very hard for the occasion. I am proud that I was among the 14 who completed the race, especially after being the youngest-ever,” Swapnali said.
“There is a lot more to achieve. But, in the near future, I hope to swim the English Channel. I also hope my effort inspires other swimmers my age to achieve similar feats and much more,” she said.
“I also believe we swimmers, especially those who achieve so much individually after making so many sacrifices, deserve much more recognition from the media, who I think are only cricket-crazy. Long distance swimming is not easy. Aren’t we making a significant effort? What do we get in return? Virtually nothing. In fact, my swim in Greece went unnoticed,” said Swapnali.
A product of the Raigad Military School, Oshiwara, the Class-4 student Swapnali trained rigorously for the last four years at the Prabodhankar Thackeray Swimming Pool, Vile Parle, and at Ozone, Goregaon, under ace coach Raju Palkar.
Swapnali’s sentimental journey in the waters over the years has earned her medals and records galore at the school, district and state levels.