Alappuzha: She was born into a poor family but her family members have been a rallying force behind her and a source of inspiration to achieve something in life. The story of this young swimmer and her family’s tale of extraordinary struggle is inspirational.
Twenty-year-old Shilpa Sasi, her father Sasi, 43, and kin Ashok Kumar, 35, hail from Chennithala near Mavelikara. The three of them are preparing to conquer Palk Strait, known to be hostile to swimmers because of sea snakes and other dangerous marine creatures, in March.
Shilpa, a product of Sports Authority of India (SAI), Thrissur, gave up her ambition in academics after completing Teacher’s Training Course (TTC) to nurture a dream to set a world record in swimming across Palk Strait along with her father and uncle.
Ask her how she had the courage to even consider such an adventure at such a young age and she replies, “If you know within yourself, and have a urge to do something you’ve cherished for a long time, you want to be proactive, and not be scared.” The obsession for swimming she inherited from her father Sasi, a part-time swimming coach. “I am determined to be the first girl to cross Palk Strait from Talaimannar in Sri Lanka to Arichamunai (Eroding Point) at Danushkodi in India. That is the only goal now,” she says.
All her family members are highly passionate about swimming though it has brought them no comforts in life yet. Shilpa’s family has no permanent shelter or land of their own. They live in a joint family in a small hut constructed in Puramboklu in Chennithala. “I don’t want to be distracted by disadvantages. I want to be confident. I can see now that the desire to create history pops up like an annoying child! For that, I need support from the people who love us, need financial support and of course moral support,” says Shilpa.
Shilpa says she was deeply impressed by the tale of Abhilash Tomy, the first Indian to successfully complete a solo circumnavigation. Meeting Abhilash was a morale booster for the young girl. “I met him recently during a TV show. I want to be like him and create history like him. He gave me lots of information regarding the sea and helpful tips to keep in mind while swimming in the sea,” she adds.
Shilpa, who started swimming at the age of one, says crossing the Palk Strait is her father Sasi’s dream. She won several accolades, both local and state level competitions, during school time. She learnt swimming techniques from her father and uncle and candidly admits that despite being a good swimmer, she still experiences fear and nervousness, “but slightly lesser now,” she says, revealing she spends at least 10 hrs a day training.
Sasi, who has now given up his job as swimming trainer at a luxury hotel in Haripad to concentrate on practising, says he taught Shilpa to draw inspiration from legendary swimmers like Mihir Sen and Bula Chowdhary. “We have already started training off the Valiyaazheekal coast,” he says admitting that he is battling a financial crunch.
Ashok Kumar, her uncle, a farmer, says the Achankovil River has been a source of inspiration to his family members to become swimmers. “We still believe that we have been blessed by this river which provides water to thousands of people who reside on its banks,” he said.