India’s Youngest swimmer’s tryst with 10 seas including the ferocious English Channel - The story of Sufyan Shaikh
11th July 1990
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Some are born swimmers, and few excel in it with time. But the endowed ones draw an emotional connection with the marine. They not only swim for their passion but do it skillfully & compete for the country making us proud. As a teenager this incredible swimmer had swam across English Channel, Arabian Sea, Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf (Kuwait), Gulf of Mexico, East China & Adriatic Sea. This makes him the youngest swimmer to have swim across 10 seas around the world at a tender age of 17 years. He is none other than the world record holder & swimming sensation Sufyan Shaikh. He has created a record by swimming the toughest tides of the English Channel at a long stretch of 33.7km in just a span of 12 hours. He has created an undefeatable benchmark of swimming in open waters for swimmers. The young Gujarati boy, who not only has countless medals but also zeal for breaking records, has entered the Limca Book of Records for swimming across these punitive waters. Giving the credit of his success to his mother, he prefers to be humble and down-to-earth, thus not hesitating to help new upcoming swimmers.
Team imd1 had a chat with him a few days ago, read on to know him further!
We are really keen to know; how did your journey begin?
I started swimming at the age of 3 and was too young to realize my flair. My mom has been an inspiration to draw me towards swimming as in her younger days she never got an opportunity to swim. It was her dream to pursue this sport. She wanted her son/or daughter to learn how to swim and this is how I got introduced to water. I was at ease in seawaters and picked the skill smoothly. I had 3 coaches then. By the age of 4 my coach identified my potential as a competent swimmer. So, the professional swimming lessons were a start of a new chapter in my life. This is how I got into competent swimming and participated in various championships. Thereafter it was never looking back, and tornado of fruitful events happened one after the other. At the age of 9, I participated & won state championships and at the age of 10 crossed the Swiss channel. All happened due to my parents as they really pushed me to the path leading to glory.
Your Quote for life
Work Hard and Stay Humble
Elon Musk, Trevor Noah
My parents, My enemies
Food I Love
Food I Hate
Bottle gourd, Bitter gourd
Had I not been a Swimmer then…
Like Vacations at
Beaches of Croatia
Favourite Pass time
Spending time with friends, Restaurant hopping
‘Babua’ a Bhojpuri word
Favourite Movies / Series
The Dark Knight, Entourage
Favourite Actor / Actress
Shah Rukh Khan and Christian Bale
What has been your success mantra?
There is couple of factors. ‘Being patient and not getting bothered about receiving fast results’ is the key mantra. When one loses, it must be taken as learning. I also had faith in my coaches and vice versa. “I followed a very strict regime and that helped me get focused. I lived a low-key life and was not socializing much. My parents too were firm and insisted discipline which helped me stay organized and led me through rigorous training that has facilitated me in my triumph”.
What were the hardships & hurdles you encountered and how did you overcome them?
The first one would be learning from trailing. I overcame that by strategizing my performance with the help of my parents and coaches. I underwent training for additional hours at a stretch to regain the strength and stamina. Though we have become progressive, but still our Indian mentality is conservative. Initially we faced lot of criticism from people as to what I was doing and received strange comments on my performance. As here focus is more on education, sport is taken only as an activity. Every individual is different. Some excel in education and others pursue extra curriculum. It all depends on one’s intellectual level; No matter how hard you study it will not work. Many parents don’t see a successful career and monetary benefit attached with sports. But I was fortunate to receive inordinate support from my parents.
Success is incomplete without its share of failures. How should one overcome them to move on?
When I failed to reach among the top three and top ten positions I was disappointed, but my parents’ teachings helped me to stay sturdy. They always taught me ‘no matter how high you climb the success ladder be focused, patient, humble and grounded. Help, influence and assist others who are learning and find it hard to reach the mark.’ That helped me strive more. Working hard was a priority as that helped me bounce back and gain the deserved recognition.
Do you think swimming and its learning’s can be helpful in life even if one does not want to consider it as a career goal?
I would recommend swimming to everyone. Earth is surrounded by 70% water. So, knowing swimming is more of a survival guide. Your whole body is exercised and there is no distress of injury. There is a lot of phobia related to swimming. It is better to start learning at an early age to get over the fear.
Which was “that” moment when you consider yourself as “I Am The 1”?
I was in 10th when I dislocated my knee and had only 2 months to train for the English Channel. My family had to spend a lot of money for my medical expenses and we had no sponsors. The dream of going abroad and participating in the challenge was fading. Due to lack of sponsorships, my family was nearly bankrupt in helping me pursue my aim and I had a lot of responsibility on my shoulder, so I had a lot to gain if I was successful and everything to lose if I failed. I had to keep the faith of my country. I was only 16 then! After the 2nd day of my operation I was back at training continuously for 12 hrs. When I concluded swimming the English Channel, I saw a change in the perception of people around me. They now considered me as a true winner. I too was astonished at my achievement. People started believing in my talent and that was when I too considered myself as ‘Yes, I Am The 1.’
Could you reflect on the importance of systematic training in swimming?
It’s a key to success! You can swim nonstop for 4 hours but that will not help achieve the right aptitude and skill to swim efficaciously. High performance training is required for any sport. With strict training one learns how to compete at microsecond level. You might see in competitions one contestant finishes the lap in 29.05sec and the other at 25.08 sec. To achieve success, hard work & performance training from athlete side and coach side is essential. Fighting the lactic acid in our body to compete and go forward is the agenda.
Technology and scientific training has been changing the way people get trained in swimming. What’s your take?
I have seen it changing year by year. A granular level research is processed for improving performance level whether it’s related to nutrition in terms of diet, food combining of fewer calories & supplements the sportsperson take or related to high-end machinery in close environment. Contestants workout in micro chambers to improve their oxygen levels before competition. Many young athletes are participating and attaining victory. Last year, a 16-year-old from Singapore won at the Olympics. Equivalent training outside swimming premises helps in enhancing the athlete’s performance. The new generation is exposed to better nourishment & training.
How can one select an ideal ‘Guru’ for getting formal training for swimming?
It’s hard for young individuals to select an ideal guru as they might lake the ability to narrow on an accomplished individual and don’t know much about the sport. It’s practical to look upon a person whom we have to compete with or defeat, as our motivation. Try to perform like him/her and make a goal to reach their level of achievement or beyond.
What according to you can be a scope for improvement in training for swimming in India?
Yes of course, there is huge scope of improvement. From my state itself there are many good swimmers. In Gujarat, the top three places in state gets monetary benefit and that is a motivating factor. We have a huge population, but people stop pursuing their dreams due to academic responsibilities, infrastructure or financial restraints. We need foresight to help them get trained, go abroad and compete. We have good training facilities, but they are not utilized to the fullest. The usage is not consistent. It is the parents and coach responsibility to identify the talent and impart training.
What do you suggest for better accessibility of swimming in remote parts of India?
The strategy which I have already pitched to the Indian government is that we need local champions to pitch in. Assign them as talent scots to identify potential athletes from villages & local towns and bring them forward to our government & Sports Authorities of India. They can be gradually trained for competitions at national & international level. In this way, many new upcoming sportspersons can be bought in limelight and thus they get a chance to make our country proud.
In your opinion, what are the basic key traits apart from formal training that make “imd1”?
Teamwork is very important. Though swimming sounds like an individual sport but it needs various supporters. Like in my case I had my parents, coaches’ nutritionist and other personnel who stood by me through thick & thin. Since it’s a team effort, one must trust in each other. Your squad believes in your caliber and you believe in them. One has to be patient enough. People need quick results. But they don’t apprehend that success is a collaboration of mindset and belief in your goals.
Your piece of advice to parents and new generation especially when some people are skeptical about career in extra curriculum.
Parents are the biggest factor and guide in determining what their child will become when they grow up. They provide the right direction and course of action. We trust them and completely look up to them. But parents should also not coax the child to take up a specific course. Guide the kids but let them pursue vocation of their choice. They might want their children to become scientist, doctor or an engineer but if the kid is good in singing, he might not be academically inclined as his mind will be inclined towards music. Parents need to have a correct foresight and help children achieve goals by setting up small landmarks. But when kids grow-up, allow them to set their own milestones.
One thing which you feel you want to change from the past while you walk down memory lane…
I don’t want to change anything. I have been happy and contented the way life has progressed. All the hurdles & losses have built the resilient individual I am today.