SRIKAANTH - CHANNELING MY DREAMS
The sheer monotony of swimming in the 25mts pool led me to try “bigger” challenges when I proposed the challenge of crossing the English Channel thus my love for the open water was born.
Srikaanth Viswanathan is 46, living in Bangalore for the last 20 years. Born and raised in Chennai. An engineer by training. Have been in R&D divisions of various organizations like Philips, Honeywell & GE for the last 24+yrs. He is the oldest Indian to have completed the solo swimming of the English Channel and the first Indian team to have accepted the record of 2 person relay.
Have you been swimming from a very young age? Tell us a little bit about your journey
Unfortunately no. I was very active in sports.. cricket in particular. Had captained school & college cricket teams. Had played for my dad’s company team too ☺. Continued representing various corporates that I have been part of over the years. However, around 2003/4 timeframe I developed a ligament injury which threatened my active lifestyle. I was worried that I will become obese if I do not remain active. That’s when I decided to learn swimming during a summer camp in 2005. Even much before that in 2002, once I had an opportunity to experience the wonderful weightless experience in a pool during a corporate party. Since then I had this deep desire to learn swimming at some point of time.
Tell us something about Aquaphobia, have you ever experienced it?
Yes. To be honest I was always scared of water. I once had a “near death” experience during the initial days when I was learning to swim. I had just learnt to swim 1 lap in a shallow pool in city club and wanted to experience swimming in a deeper pool. I pestered my coach to take me to Basvangudi pool to learn treading/sculling there. However, in an unexpected moment, I started to drown & luckily my friends and life guards pulled me out. I was trembling on the deck for a while & vowed to never attempt swimming again. However, my coach persisted that I come for class the very next day & there has been no stopping since then. But the experience made me realise the importance of learning proper techniques and later I made sure that my children are comfortable in deep waters.
Who or what inspired you to do Open Water?
Actually it’s the sheer monotony of swimming in the 25mts pool! Yes, as master swimmers we were bored of training in 25mts pool for 1 or 2 competitions that happened during the year & were looking for a “bigger” challenge. In 2014, when we were deliberating on that bigger challenge, I proposed the challenge of crossing the English Channel & thus my love for open water was born. Honestly, none of us had any prior experience in swimming in lakes or seas at that point in time. Our first attempt at open water swimming was a disaster in the sea near Kundapur, Karnataka in Nov’14. All of us were sea sick & panicked looking at the dark waters. However, as a group we persevered & adapted to the conditions gradually.
What are some of your favourite locations for Open Water Swimming?
I enjoyed swimming in Bali & Phuket where the waters are crystal clear, though the water is much warmer in these locations. But my all-time favorite is Dover beach. We get to enjoy the same frigid waters as English Channel & yet the beach is safe for long practice swims. Its perfect training ground for channel swimming complete with jelly fishes stings giving a real experience of what to expect during channel crossing. Back home, I have swum in many lakes in Nainital for cold water adaptation. During my multiple channel attempts, I kept going back to Goa (Bambolim beach) very often to experience sea swimming. Water is very clean there & safe too. But the best is Thonnurkere, near Srirangapatna. It’s a pristine fresh water lake. A word of caution here which I follow very seriously.. Never venture out in any open water without arranging proper life support either in the form of a boat/coracle or a friend watching over you from the shores. Safety first!
What are some of your favourite strokes and which ones do you master?
I prefer freestyle for my training and in events. During long swims, I tend to get into a “cruise” mode in freestyle & reach a trance state many a times ☺. I also swim breaststroke for relaxation.
Can you share a few funny or memorable childhood incidents that played a role in your journey?
The values that I imbibed from my parents in my childhood have a huge influence on me every day. Some of the traits like being steadfast in achieving the goal, hard work, pursuing the dreams, determination & commitment, being caring & compassionate, just to name a few. I am a strong believer of the saying, “Pain is temporary, glory is forever”.
Can you share what are some of the dangers of open water swimming? Have you faced any situation yourself?
Open water swimming poses a much greater threat than swimming in a pool because of the unknowns & the uncertainties of Mother Nature. While the commonly perceived threat is the wild marine life, the biggest risk, in my opinion, is in the form of muscle cramps & dehydration that can incapacitate a person. Under preparation is another big common risk. One has to take every possible precaution while venturing into the seas, lakes or rivers. Yes, I did encounter quite a few of these during my swims - most frequent being jellyfish stings & cramps. Apart from that, I have had the privilege of sea lions swimming close by in the channel waters. Thankfully did not sight any sharks .
What are some of the best locations in India for Open Water?
From my experience, I would rate Thonnurkere & beaches in Goa as best & safe locations for open water experience in India.
What are some of the equipment you find indispensable to your practice?
You will always find a pair of swim paddles, fins & kickboard in my pool training kit. These help me develop stronger kicks and pulls. While swimming in seas, I will always carry a pair of strobe lights & a bright colored tow float carrying my feeds.
What do you think are some of the health and mental benefits of open water swimming?
To me swimming as a sport provides many benefits for the mind, body, and soul. While I wouldn’t differentiate the health benefits between swimming in the pool vs open water, mentally open water swimming is much more challenging and one that requires meticulous planning particularly if you are going on a long swim. I guess one also gets much more respect in the fraternity if you are an open water swimmer ☺
Are you on a Diet?
In my opinion, dieting is something that needs to be aligned with the physical goals. For example, while training for my solo I realized that my regular diet was not able to help me meet my bodily needs of nutrition for long swims, resulting in exhaustion. I had to resort to a high-calorie diet before & after swims. Additionally, it takes many months to prepare the body to withstand long hours in cold conditions. I had to resort to a combination of carbs + proteins + fat at the ratio of 40:40:20. Good fat is an essential element to build thermal insulation. Being a foodie, I had no problem in experimenting with newer healthy options. Thanks to my wife for helping me with this. Obviously, I can’t expect her to continue the similar preparation forever ☺
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in the course of your journey and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge for me was not knowing how much training is good enough to swim across the channel. That kept me awake at night & I pushed myself to overtrain (in hindsight of course).
Challenges are aplenty in such an adventure when you are in a demanding high profile job, elderly parents to take care of. I can say now that a solo swim is truly a solo life. I was pretty much on my own, be it training long hours in a pool or living in Dover alone for 1.5months cooking my own food, training alone in the Dover beach for hours together, come back & massage your aching muscles and be ready to start this cycle all over the next day at 5 am. I think that was the toughest phase in my entire life, both mentally & physically. Thanks to my wife, she managed everything on the home front with her demanding work life. Images as below in my mind are the ones which kept me going during the 14hours. After all, in the end, it’s the support & encouragement from family & friends which keeps us going.
Any experience that sticks out for you?
During one of the weekend long swims in Dover, my swimming kit along with my iPhone got stolen right in front of my eyes (I could see somebody lifting my bags as I was swimming about 100mts away). Luckily, that day I had kept my tshirt & shorts outside my bag and thus they were spared. I had to scramble to the nearest police station (imagine if I had lost my tshirt & shorts as well ☺) and lodge a complaint. However, it was a futile effort as neither police nor I could not trace any of my stuff. I ended up roaming around the locality for 2 full days looking for my kit. It was the lowest point in the whole preparation phase. Mentally & physically drained out that day. But, having sacrificed so much for that swim, I was not ready to give up & bounced back the very next day with a 6hour swim
What's next for you?
Learning about my journey, I have been approached by many individuals requesting for help in achieving their goals. When I meet such people, I notice the possibilities that they see now to realise their own dreams which have been kept aside for various reasons like age, work, family etc. I have been sharing my “recipe” through talks & discussions.
I have also been recently nominated as India’s representative for Channel Swimming Association (U.K) to promote and support aspiring channel swimmers from the country.
I am very passionate about the sport & love to coach youngsters and elders alike to help realize their dreams. I have signed up to do a solo crossing of Catalina channel and around Manhattan 20 bridges swim. When I complete these 2 swims in August 2019, I will become a “Triple Crown” holder, a distinguished status awarded by International Open Water Swimming Association. I also have an ambition to complete the Ocean 7 challenge sometime in my life.
To sum up, I believe “no dream is too big to achieve when one puts in his/her commitment and hard work” and age just becomes a number.