Prodigious endurance swimmer from Uttar Pradesh, 11-year-old Shraddha Shukla, took up her biggest challenge on a humid Sunday morning — swim in the monsoon-fed, swollen Ganga from hometown Kanpur to temple town Varanasi.
She will cover 570km in 10 days, with refreshment and washroom breaks, which is equivalent of 13 Olympic marathons of 42.195km on land. She will be swimming about 60km a day, taking a break every four to five hours.
“I am not nervous. I am excited and confident of completing the challenge,” said Shradhha in a blue swimsuit with floral patterns, before diving into the Ganga at Kanpur’s historic Massacre ghat, where hundreds of people gathered to cheer her.
“I am eyeing the national record,” she said, joining four guard divers in the murky water.
The girl from Kanpur’s Cantonment area has been swimming since one, under the watchful eyes of father-coach Lalit Shukla. He and the divers will accompany her on a traditional boat.
“After this, I will focus on achieving my dream of going to the Olympics and swimming through the English Channel,” said the girl who has been setting one record after another since she was six.
An underwater steel net will protect the diminutive swimmer, popular as Jalpari or mermaid for her feats, from river crocodiles at locations known to be infested by the reptile.
“She will swim between the net; it will keep her safe. She is not scared. All she has on her mind is the record,” her father said.
His daughter won’t swim after 7.30pm and resume preferably at 5am.
Shraddha had taken to swimming like a duck takes to water, after grandfather Munnu Lal Shukla brought her to the Ganga at age one. For the next four years, he taught her swimming and increasing slowly the distance.
She swam 10km from Ganga Barrage to Siddhnath ghat at age six and 6km from Kanpur to Unnao a year later. She covered 16km downstream in just 80 minutes on August 11, 2013, nipping 10 minutes from her previous best. She was eight then. About a year on, Shraddha swam to Allahabad from Massacre ghat in less than a week.
“We will send all footages to chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and appeal them to refer her name for an international record,” said Kuljeet Kaur, president of the Women’s Social Action Committee.
Mohd Nafees, who swam with her to Siddhnath Ghat on Sunday, gave credit to her hard work and discipline. “I am sure she will reach where she aims to be.”