Srikanth is a popular name in South India. I knew several friends and relatives with the same name. One of them completed his PhD in Chemistry and ended up in a semiconductor fab in Malaysia. My nephew with the same name completed his MBA at Purdue and doing himself well in his life. All the Srikanths are generally doing well in their careers and life. I want to tell the story of yet another Srikanth today.
5:30 am. It has been a routine for four of us to assemble at the swimming pool of the Indiranagar club. It is not a great pool, but for a person like me, it is heaven. We considered ourselves a shining example for others that we could get up early and get into the water day in and day out irrespective of the weather. In any case, I am not a great swimmer. I go every morning as the trees surrounding my pool give an incredible spectacle, and I love to listen to the birds chirping perching on these gigantic trees. I do a few laps and spend time looking at the trees and hearing the noises of the birds. My friends occasionally take a break to listen to my management rant early in the morning. I am sure I am a big bore talking about strategy, leadership and other management jargon early in the morning.
One fine morning, a tall gentleman appears, and he wants to swim. He seems to be even-tempered, has a calm personality and doesn’t get upset, angry, or excited quickly. Looking at his body build, I infer that he had miles to go before he learnt swimming, and he would be my student for a long time to come.
When he jumped into the pool for the first time, I knew that he had some basics of swimming. He started increasing the number of laps by the day. He would never look at any of us till he completed the daily target. Within a few days, I realised that he was working on something big. Very early in the game, he understood that no improvement is possible without measurement. He bought a unique watch for underwater usage and measured his performance daily. I am sure he maintained a log with all the details of the swim. As in the tortoise and hare story, I took my breaks, relaxed and continued in my world.
After six months, Srikanth stopped coming to the pool. I imagined that he had moved to a different city for work.
I rang up Srikanth after seeing his picture in the newspaper and the others on a boat. He looked fit and healthy. He was very much in Bangalore, practising in a different pool as neither we were a match nor inspiration to improve. It seems he spent five hours swimming daily in addition to one hour in Gym. As a part of his training, he went to Goa, Nainital and Thailand to improve his speed. When he first swam across the English Channel (between England and France) in 2015, 46-year-old Srikanth Viswanathan was part of an eight-member team. In 2016, he did the same with three other people. But his most significant achievement, by far, has been swimming solo across the Channel in 14 hours and seven minutes on July 21, 2018. In 2019, swimmer Srikanth Viswanathan became the first Bengalurean and the oldest Indian to complete the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming marathon challenge on August 31. This arduous task comprises swimming across three channels — the English Channel (33.3 km), the Catalina Channel (32.3 km) and the Manhattan Island swim (45.9 km). I was in Manhattan when he completed the Manhattan island swim and watched him at the beginning and towards the end of the eight-hour swim. As soon as he finished the swim, I could see a Norwegian cruise liner gliding along the Hudson. I was sitting on the river bank, wonderstruck!
The Ministry of Youth and Sports, Government of India recognised his adventurous spirit and awarded him the prestigious Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award 2020. The President of India presented the award on November 13, 2021, in a glittering ceremony in Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Where was I after 14 years? I was still swimming the waters of the Indiranagar club. Srikanth is a great role model, and I envy him for his grit and perseverance.