"I started swimming when I was 2 and a half years old. I grew up in Udaipur, Rajasthan where there were no professional swimming pools at that time. That was a real struggle, because for a child who was so passionate about swimming, there was no way to pursue it -- I ended up swimming in the local waters and training with my mother. We faced a lot of problems financially as well, because sponsorships at that time were unheard off. My parents took a huge number of loans to keep my training going. As I began to get serious about swimming as a career, I began to get exempted from unit tests to focus on my training and that made other students call me a 'teacher's pet'. I was also really tan because of constantly being out and practicing and I put on weight for my long distance swims -- which wasn't easy to deal with as a young teenager.
In Udaipur schools remain closed for 5-6 months of the year because of the cold, and that essentially means that a swimmer would go back to square one because of the lack of practice. My mother and I would request them year after year to keep the pool open for us -- and in the freezing cold we would be the only two still swimming. As we began realising that I was good at cold water swimming, I decided to swim in the Antartica. For that, we bought a small inflatable pool, emptied 20 tonnes of ice in it and put it on my terrace to practice. While practicing I've sustained injuries to my back, I've been bitten and I still have a frost bite on my thigh but all of these struggles have been worth it.
Today, I am youngest swimmer in the world to swim in all 5 oceans, I recently set a World Record for the longest swim in the Antartica as well as for being the youngest swimmer to swim the Antartica. Now, there's no looking back. All of my focus is on the Olympics in 2020, where I want to participate in the long distance event. No Indian has participated in that event, and I want to win it and make my country proud. What's sad is that, despite these achievements, I'm still finding it difficult to find sponsorships and to be recognised. Swimming is never considered a 'serious sport' in this country and that is disheartening at times. In fact, I've had to move to Bombay to train -- so I live on my own here, but I'm not giving up. I'm still as determined to prove a point that swimmers too can make the country proud and that we're as good as the other sportsmen out there." Bhakti Sharma