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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Gateway To India And Inspirational Smiles

The Gateway to India Challenge is a solo 21.97-mile (35.3 km) marathon swim in Mumbai Harbour.

The most recent person to complete this swim was Christian Jongeneel in December 2012. Jongeneel, who has completed 4 of the Oceans Seven waterways (English Channel, Catalina Channel, Strait of Gibraltar and Cook Strait), became the first non-Indian swimmer to complete the Gateway to India Challenge.

What made Jongeneel's 6 hour 49 minute swim so interesting was the amount of data that he captured using Garmin technology. From his average pace of 15:49 minutes per mile to the average temperature of 78°F (25°C), Jongeneel had plenty of data to do a post-swim analysis. He certainly caught the right tides as his pace hit a maximum of 8:29 minute per mile, and swam in the cool of the early morning (71.6°F or 22°C) to the heat of the day (91.4°F or 33°C). The data also showed that he is incredibly fit as he only averaged 79 beats per minute while hitting a maximum heart rate of 115 bpm. But what was curiously interesting was the fact that his Garmin GPS unit found him to swim at a minimum elevation of -22 feet (-6.7m) and hit a maximum elevation of 37 feet (11m). That is a swing of 18 meters.

This is his story:

Similarly to any other open water challenge, the adventure starts way before the moment to dive into the water. The process always includes the logistics of getting a suitable support team together as well as the logistics of the trip. This can be more or less complicated depending on the time of the year, and the remoteness and cultural gap with the location. Another barrier is getting the necessary permits to swim in waters that are often shared with commercial vessels of remarkable size.

During the past year, I have been struggling to put all the pieces in place in order to organize a fund-raising swimming event in India together with the NGO Vicente Ferrer Foundation. Arti Arun Pradhan, an open water coach and English Channel swimmer, proposed a Gateway of India (Mumbay) swim.

The Gateway to India (Mumbay) Challenge is a well-known swim goal for Indian long-distance swimmers, but it had never been attempted by a foreign athlete. Three organizations were involved in attaining those required permits including the Indian Swim Federation, the Maritime Authority and the Navy. Due to the fact that this was the first swim attempt by a non-Indian national, the three permits were not signed until the very last day even though my team and I had already been around a week in Mumbay.

Once the legal issues were finally resolved in the nick of time, and due to the fact that Mumbay has more than 20 million inhabitants, we had to start heading towards the meeting point five hours before the scheduled start for the swim. This added quite a bit of stress, especially when taking into account that the swim started at 3:00 am, in an industrial harbor for a steel mill. This year I also had to face an unfortunate and very persistent flu that translated in a heavy congestion that made the swim even more challenging.

Once the swim finally started, it took much longer than usual for me to find my comfortable and efficient pace. I decided to stop more frequently than before, stopping every 30 minutes instead that once per hour.

The waters were very turbid and not as clean as I would have wished for. That may have been a factor in reducing my intake as I mostly relied on gels and isotonic drinks. On the other hand, water temperature was less challenging than the norm in my marathon swims, and the progress was very positive after the first couple of hours.


The swim followed a river towards Mumbay bay after a start in an industrial harbor and first progressed through a military base and later through a petrochemical plant before arriving at the Mumbay bay 3-4 hours into the swim by sunrise. Once in Mumbay bay, the currents and waves increased which impacted my swimming pace, but not to worry. Shortly after swimming into the bay, the coast started to become visible: first just a blur, later the skyline, and finally the Gateway to India itself.

The swim took 6 hours 47 minutes. At my arrival, there were officials from Vicente Ferrer Foundation and many spectators, making the moment even more memorable.

Over the past year, I created a small NGO, Brazadas Solidarias in order to raise funds to collaborate with humanitarian projects through two types of events: popular open water swims that attracts up to 200 swimmers and the individual challenges that I organize. Brazadas Solidarias raised nearly half of the funds through the Gateway to India challenge necessary to build a school in rural India. We are confident that the total sum will be raised in a few weeks through a local swim we are finalizing now. More importantly, it gave me the opportunity to collaborate with some of the less fortunate kids who have some of the world’s most wonderful and inspiring smiles. Those smiles will accompany me during my swims from now on.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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