Hyderabad-based endurance swimmer Shyamala Goli has become the second woman in the world to cross the Palk Strait. It was at 4:15 AM on Friday when the 48-year-old plunged into the water off the Talaimannar coast in Sri Lanka. She swam across the Palk Strait, reaching Arichalmunai near Dhanushkodi by 5:30 PM, covering a distance of 30 kms in 13 hours and 43 minutes.
“It’s a special moment,” she said, speaking on the phone from Rameshwaram. “I wore a shark shield as a protection against marine predators, and applied grease on my body,” Shyamala explained.
“The last five hours were extremely tough. It was high tide and the strong currents kept pushing me back. I had to pump in extra energy, and it took three hours longer for me to complete the challenge,” she revealed.
The feat is all the more spectacular because Shyamala, who runs a play school, took up swimming only at the age of 44. She shared that balancing her job and swimming posed a challenge. Describing her venture as a “solo adventure”, Shyamala, who had conquered the Ganga Open Water to a distance of 13-km in Patna in 2019, said she practices swimming for eight hours daily.
“I have been religiously practicing for over two years, but last year, due to COVID-19 there was a break. But ever since the pools were open for use, I resumed my practice,” she said.
Shyamala was inspired to try and conquer the Palk Strait after reading reports about swimmers crossing English Channel. “I have been dreaming of swimming across the Palk Strait for the past two years. Last year my attempt was cancelled due to COVID-19, and I was so disappointed, but I am thrilled that I have achieved it now,” she said.
“I was looking for an open water channel in India and I found the Palk Strait. I was fascinated with its history and the people who achieved the feat,” she added.
“Only 14 people in the world have done this (swum across the Palk Strait), and most of them are international swimmers and police officers, including Rajeev Trivedi (Telangana Prisons Addl Director General (ADG)). I feel it a privilege to join their august company,” Shyamala shared.
Considering that open water swimming is not common in India due to the high-risk factor and the lack of exposure to adventure sports, Shyamala’s feat will go down as a story of grit and determination.
While Rajeev Trivedi helped her with the paperwork from India, it was Telangana Chief Minister KCR’s daughter and MLC Kavitha who helped her get the required permissions from the Sri Lanka High Commission.
“I need to motivate myself every time I set my eyes on a target,” she said, adding, “All athletes are born out of struggle and pain.” Her next goal is to cross the English Channel.