Butterfly queen looking for a piece of plot to open an academy Is Anyone Listening?
Once known to rule the pools all over the country, the most coveted swimmer of yesteryear Bula Chowdhury boasts of being the only Padma Shri awardee swimmer of the country. At 41 years of her age she dreams of opening a swimming academy of her own to nurture talent and pay back to the sports fraternity what she got all these years. Identified as butterfly queen of Indian swimming, Bula Chowdhury of an industrial town of Hindmotor in Kolkata, who had a political stint of five years with the CPM during the last Bengal polls regrets her decision to join politics as it was the phase that pushed her career back by five years and she could virtually do nothing for her first love—swimming. Having made futile efforts to obtain a piece of land measuring two acres to open an academy of her own despite being the people’s representative for five years from Nandanpur constituency under West Midnapore district of West Bengal she has no hesitation in calling upon the Jharkhand government to spare a piece of land and some infrastructure to help her set the dream academy. “ I have no personal means to establish and operate such a big infrastructure that can give residential training facility to budding swimmers,” said the mother of two kids who is yet to lose her zeal as a long distance swimmer.
Well planned to return to long distance swimming after a gap of more than five years by fathoming the Rottonest Channel in Australia she now is the only Asian woman in the world to have swum across English Channel twice and measured the Palk Straight between India and Sri Lanka in a record time of 13.52 hours. She is also the only woman in the world to have swum seven seas in five continents.
Bula dominated Indian swimming unabated for nearly two decades since her first gold in 1978 and expressed her intent to come back to long distance swimming in a tête-à-tête with this correspondent during her recent visit to the city of waterfalls Ranchi where the 65th Senior National Aquatics Championships-2011 were organised.
She feels that politics is not meant for sportsperson as she failed to do anything for her fellow sportspersons. “I always abhorred politics but CPM gave me the ticket and I was elected to represent the constituency for five years. The only thing I learnt there was that I shall never return to politics and do whatever small I can for promoting the sports,” she said.
Having scripted a success saga by creating records in pool events since her debut in 1978, Bula held unbeaten national record in butterfly stroke which remained unbeaten for over two decades. “My record was recently broken by Richa Mishra but I have no regret because sport is all about paving way for others to come forward,” she says. Her national 100m butterfly record of 1:06.19, set in Trivandrum in 1984, was broken after a gap of around 15 years in 2009 by Arahata Meghavi of Karnataka clocking 01.03:24. Her India best performance of 1:05.27 (100m butterfly) got shattered Meghavi whereas record timing of 2:19.60 (200m butterfly)—both set at the Seoul Asian Games in 1986—were broken by Richa Mishra in 2007 when she clocked 2.18:66 in Asianage.
Instead of calling it a day Bula diverted to long-distance swimming and scripted a success saga, which has remained unparalleled till date. She swam across the English Channel in 1989. She repeated the scintillating performance in 1999 to become the first Asian woman to swim the channel twice. On a long-distance swimming spree, she swam across the Strait of Gibraltar in 2000. In the following year, she swam across the Tiranian Sea in Italy, then the next year it was the Great Toroneos Gulf in Greece and Catalina Channel in the US. In 2003, she swam across the Cook Straits in New Zealand. Bula completed the swim through the Strait of Gibraltar in a world record time of 3 hours and 35 minutes.
She admits that her diversion from sprint events to long-distance swimming was not an easy task. “For sprint events one has to be slim and fit whereas for long distance body weight proves to be a boon because you lose lots of calories while swimming continuously for 12-13 hours,” she said. Having put on weight since birth of her second child almost three years back she now finds herself fit for long-distance swimming instead of sprints on the pool.
Suffering with a congenital heart disease she was advised by doctors to take a break from long-distance swimming but after the five-year gap she has once again resumed practice to take a splash in the Rottenest Channel, Australia. Unwilling to share as to when she would actually plunge into the troubled seas Bula says that she awaits a go ahead from her doctors. “My heart beat goes tremendously low which may be fatal,” she said with a determination that she was born to fathom the seas and no limitation can ever deter her from challenging the high tides of sea.
Giving credit to her husband with whom she tied a knot two decades back she also hails her parents and in-laws for the support that she garnered from them to continue with her career. “There is no denial of the fact that my family members including the 27-year-old son is concerned about my health but I have convinced them to return to long-distance swimming,” she said. Blaming it over lack of proper training facilities in the country she said that most of the swimmers in India failed to obtain proper training and advantages, available to international swimmers in form of expert coaching. She said remembering the days when she started her career in swimming at a local pond followed by Hoogly river: “It was because of turbidity of Hoogly water and the pond where I used to swim I never let go an opportunity to improve on my diving and return kick.”
The Rottnest Channel Swim is an annual open water swimming event from Cottesloe Beach to Rottnest Island, off the coast of Western Australia, near Perth. It is open to solo swimmers and teams of two or four. It is one of the largest open water swimming events in the world. The distance is approximately 20 kilometres. It is completed by people of all ages.
By JAIDEO N SHANDILYA from Ranchi