Arjuna awardee reminisces his 1994 English Channel swim

Chennai, Aug 14 (IANS) While the date August 15 holds a very special place in the Indian history and for all Indians — the date marks India’s Independence in 1947 from the British rulers — it also holds added significance for V. Kutraleeshwaran.

It was on this date that Kutraleeshwaran — one of the youngest Arjuna Award receipients — swam across the English Channel in 1994.

“I wanted to cross the Channel on August 15,” the Guiness World Record holder for swimming six channels in a single year told IANS on Sunday.

As a 13-year-old boy, he achieved that feat and on August 14 and 15 of every year Kutraleeshwaran muses about that swim across the English Channel.

“While I was practicing at the English Channel, other swimmers would come and tell me to go back to India and that crossing the channel was an impossible task. But the same people came back on August 16 and told me that I had proved them wrong,” Kutraleeshwaran reminisced.

Wanting to set the records straight, he said the Tamil Nadu government helped him fully in achieving the Guiness World Record and that the central government funded participation in one of the international competitions.

“My quitting professional swimming when I was in Class 12 was a conscious and practical decision. In the 1990s, there were no corporate sponsorhips for swimmers. I had also seen great sportspersons doing odd jobs for their livelihood,” Kutraleeshwaran said.

“The only option for a middle-class person then was to focus on studies and come up in life, which I did. I do not have any regrets,” he added.

Today, the Intel engineer-turned-investment banker at Barclays Capital and Citibank has returned to India after working abroad for over a decade.

Queried about his decision to quit as Vice President, Corporate and Investment Bank, Citi, Kutraleeshwaran said: “It may look irrational, but that is the way I am. I do not have any back-up plan. It may be risky but that is the way of life. When there is no back-up plan, one will focus on the goal and achieve it.”

He said he wanted to get a management degree and quit Intel and joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technlogy-Sloan School of Management.

According to him, his sporting achievement certainly added value to his resume.

“A professional athelete competing in global arena implicitly conveys that he is a hard worker, dedicated and disciplined,” Kutraleeshwaran said.

“I came back to India nearly a month ago. I am yet to finalise my entrepreneurial plans, which can also be related to swimming as a sport,” Kutraleeshwaran remarked.

“Swimming should be like walking. Every Indian should know how to swim. If swimming is taught in all the schools, then the sample size will grow bigger, thus paving the way for more talented swimming champions,” he said.

Kutraleeshwaran said corporates could sponsor this under CSR (corporate social responsibility), a new way to build brand equity and also get a return on investment.

Looking back upon his swimming career, Kutraleeshwaran said: “I started swimming in traditional pools. But I found swimming in the sea with friends more interesting and challenging.”

Then the coach suggested participation in the five-km sea swimming competition here and Kutraleeshwaran came fourth.

After this, he participated in long-distance swimming competitions across the country, bagged medals, and set his eyes on crossing the English Channel.

“It was the swimming coach K.S. Illangovan who spotted Kutraleeshwaran’s talent in long-distance swimming. Further, then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa decided to provide the needed support. And late T.V. Gnanavelu, Secretary, Tamil Nadu Aquatics Association, then suggested crossing the Palk Strait first,” S.V. Ramesh, advocate and Kutraleeshwaran’s father, told IANS.

“We are indebted to these three persons for Kutraleeshwaran’s achievements,” Ramesh added.

In 1994, he first crossed the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka.

It was then that his father came to know about Mihir Sen’s achievement of swimming across five channels in a single calendar year and wanted Kutraleeshwaran to break that 30-year record.

After the English Channel, Kutraleeshwaran crossed Rottnest Channel in Australia, the Straits of Messina and Zannone Circeo, both in Italy, and finally the Ten Degree Channel between Little Andaman and Car Nicobar in the Bay of Bengal — all with the help of the Tamil Nadu government.

Asked about the precautions taken before a long-distance sea swimming event, Kutraleeshwaran said: “To protect the skin as I would be in salt water for several hours, petroleum jelly will be applied on the whole body.”

“But nothing can be done about the mouth and there will be blisters on the lips and even on the tongue. For at least two days after an event, I would be on liquid diet. One can’t even eat a chocolate due to the blisters,” he said.

Asked about his name, Kutraleeshwaran said it is the name of the deity in a temple in Kutralam in Tamil Nadu.

“My grandfather insisted that I was named like this as it was part of fulfilling his vow,” he said.

“It is a unique name. On seeing the name in my passport many immigration officials immediately recognise the name and wish me,” he remarked.

Many Indians abroad, on hearing my name, used to tell me that there was a boy in India, a popular long-distance swimmer, with identical name. I used to tell them the boy was me,” he said.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at v.jagannathan@ians.in)

–IANS

vj/tsb/vt

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