The water was as cold as it could have been in July. The preparation had been in progress for the big day. There had been a lot of online research to acclimatise with all possible situations that he could face. A Facebook group was providing additional motivation. The window between July 19 and 28, 2014 was identified for him to attempt to swim across the English Channel.
The pilot who was to guide through the swim had been identified several months before. On July 20th, when he had made the first attempt, the wind had turned a little hostile and Rohan More had to return to his hotel, choosing not to go ahead. While he focused on the work in hand, he had not told his family members that he was attempting the feat. They all thought that he was there for work.
When he Rohan finally decided to go ahead with the swim on July 25, he realised that the water was colder than usual. Very much colder, in fact. Something that he had not been used to. Worse, he was unwell – having a severe headache and, occasionally, throwing up.
“It was brutally cold. I still remember and cannot forget it ever,” Rohan recalls.
13 hours and 23 minutes later, after braving all odds, he completed the swim across the English Channel on July 26.
It was just the first of many feats that Rohan achieved. As he built on the achievement of going through the English Channel, he was the first Asian to swim the North Channel, one of the only 21 in world to have done it at the time.
While he had achieved the feat, there were way too many hiccups he had to clear through his journey. His grandmother passed away in February 2014. His father had a brain stroke two months later. Three months before the all-important week, his visa to the UK was rejected on procedural issues. He finally got it in May 2014. At the workplace, his manager changed because of which he had to seek leave afresh so that he could attempt the swim. What remained untold was that he had nearly run dry with his finances. His friends – Kranti, Giri, Dayesh and some others – chipped in so that Rohan’s dream could be achieved.
Worse was to come. Since he was based at Abu Dhabi, it was a challenge to swim in waters where the condition was remotely similar to the English Channel. To keep fit, running bare foot on the beach was a regular part of the exercise. One day, a sand particle pierced this foot, taking away two weeks of practice sessions. Luckily, the swimming did not stop.
The regular swimming rigour with the exercises had to be continued, and the pressure at the workplace, still had to be overcome. The toils used to leave Rohan so tired that by the time he would get home, he used to be exhausted. One day, in May 2014, when he reached home, he wanted to have a few sips of water from the bottle on the bedside. He did not realise till he had gulped a couple of sips that there was camphor oil in the bottle!! (OK fine)
After desperately reaching out for help, the neighbours came to his rescue. After medication and consultations with the doctor, the incident was brought under control.
While he was preparing for his swim, a fire had broken out at his Pune home and the family’s belongings were charred. He was told about it on July 21 but there was little that he could do.
After several such challenges- some resulting from his own mistakes, he was ready to leave for the UK on June 19. He needed time to acclimatise himself to the conditions before making his first attempt across the English Channel.
Another day, another target
Rohan next set his sight on the 35-kilometre Catalina Channel in California. He got a slot for September 29 and the swim was planned to be entirely at night. His mom insisted she would like to be present there when he attempted the swim and soon was on her way to California.
Swimming across the Catalina Channel was a different experience compared to the English Channel, although the distance was nearly the same. There was a kayaker who travelled along with the swimmer. There was a patch of radium on the board to keep the sharks away. The sea was very rough and, with the kayaker, he was alone.
“As I was swimming through the sea, I could see dolphins had surrounded the boat and seemed to be moving along with us,” Rohan recalls of the near surreal experience. It took some doing, but 10 hours and 37 minutes later, he had managed the distance.
He similarly managed to wade his way through the 42-kilometre distance of the Hawaii Channel on October 29. It was another unforgettable experience since he could “see the fish, turtles and fauna” under him. The last 1.5 kilometres were particularly tough since he had to swim against the tide, and he finally finished the distance in 17 hours 30 minutes, completing a heroic three channels in one year.
In 2015, he again completed three channels – Manhattan Island in June, North Channel in August and Tsugaru Channel in September, confirming his position as one of India’s ace long-distance swimmers.
Making of a swimming prodigy
Swimming did not come naturally to Rohan as a kid. It was a medical condition which made him take to the pool. When he was three, he was diagnosed with breathing problem. By 1988, mercifully, it had not grown into asthma, but it did create a problem or two for the toddler. The doctor’s advice was for him to follow a routine in athletics or swimming. His mother chose the water sport for him and used to take him to the baby pool, located at the third floor of Nutan Marathi Vidyalaya, a school near their Pune home.
Rohan did not enjoy swimming. Far from it. On several days, he used to come down the stairs, often crying inconsolably. His mother would not give in and insisted that he complete his swimming routine.
Little did Rohan know that the swimming therapy could become the defining thing of his career, earning him recognition around the globe.
A few years later, sometime in 1995, Rohan’s family read about Bula Chowdhury, the Indian athlete who had created a record by swimming through the English Channel a few years earlier. That sounded inspiring and Rohan was fed with stories of Bula’s heroism. His family wanted him to try the English Channel right then but children under 16 were not permitted to swim through.
Soon, Rohan was preparing to swim through the Dharamter-Gateway of India stretch, a 35-kilometre distance between two points south of Mumbai in the Arabian Sea. For local swimmers, it is often considered a stepping stone for bigger achievements. To practice for the distance, he used to swim between 6 and 9 am in the morning and evening, with the school routine sandwiched in between.
Rohan’s efforts bore fruit and, still short of his teens, he managed to cover the distance in seven hours 29 minutes, in December 1996. He narrowly missed the record that had then been registered in the Limca Book of Records.
“I was disappointed at there were some people who suggested that I should try the distance again so that I could wrest the record in my name. I did not go for it,” Rohan reminisces of his first brush with the record books. But the urge to have his name in the Limca Book of Records had been kindled.
He took part in competitive swimming till he was about 16. After that, he decided to give up swimming. Suddenly, he was consumed by books and after he completed his engineering degree from Government College of Engineering in Pune, he joined Cognizant and later Infosys to focus on professional work.
Over 10 years of being away from swimming did not dim what he had inculcated as a kid –a habit of swimming. When his mom joined him to see her son go past the Catalina Channel, her dreams were realised.
Now on a two-year leave from his employer, Infosys Technologies, Rohan is training for the 10-kilometre open water swimming championship for the 2020 Olympics. If things can fly his way, he will swim though with pride like never before.