A spirited Shraddha Shukla, all of 11 years old, has taken up the challenge to swim 570 km in the swollen Ganga river from Kanpur to Varanasi in 10 days.
Even as the river continues to rage and devastate many parts of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Bihar, Shraddha took the plunge on Sunday at the Massacre Ghat in Kanpur for the swimming feat as locals cheered on.
The endurance swimmer has, made it the mission of her life to represent India at the Olympics. As a brave step towards her goal, she is currently swimming from Kanpur to the holy city of Varanasi, setting a new national record. She is also spreading the ‘Clean Ganga’ message along the way.
"I am not nervous. I am excited and confident of completing the challenge… I am eyeing the national record… After this, I will focus on achieving my dream of going to the Olympics and swimming through the English Channel,” Shraddha told reporters.
She covered a major stretch of 100 km on Day-1, reaching Chandrika Devi temple ghat in Unnao. On Day-2, the little swimming wonder covered another 70 km to arrive at Dalmau in Raebareli on Monday , amidst a rousing welcome from locals, fans and friends.
Shraddha started swimming at the age of two when her grandfather, Munnu Shukla, a diver, took her to the Ganga.
She soon developed "fins of her own”, her father Lalit Shukla said on Monday, and said the family encouraged the girl as she wanted to swim long distances.
Eight divers are accompanying her to Varanasi. A doctor is also on board for any emergencies. "The current is very strong and the river is in spate, so we cannot take any chances” her father added.
Asked about the threat of crocodiles, he said: "It is true that there are large crocodiles in the Ganga but so far we have encountered none. Our team of divers has kept Sharddha alert all through the journey."
Expressing pride at Shraddha's feat, Munnu Lal Shukla, her grandfather, who is also her coach, said: "Crossing 550 km is the toughest of assignments for a swimmer. The level of water is quite high in the Ganga. One needs to have extreme perseverance and tenacity to succeed."
Shraddha’s expedition assumes significance as she has no formal training and comes from a poor financial background. (Courtesy : TOI)