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True grit

She knew that swimming across the English Channel would be a daunting task. For it is one of the busiest waterways in the world with a constant stream of vessels sailing back and forth. But nothing had prepared 18-year-old Ramya Chinthapally for those stinging jellyfish. They accosted her suddenly in the bone-chilling waters and she had to swim as hard as she could to escape their assault. But she refused to give up. Her endurance paid and she became the youngest Indian to swim across the Channel. Though it’s been two months since her achievement, she still bears multiple scars from the jellyfish encounter.

In a challenge of a different kind, 33-year- old Sucheta Khadethankar experienced the wrath of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. The desert unleashed its fury violent sandstorms, pelting rain (yes, even that) and average day-temperatures of 47C during her 65-day trek across the sands. And of course there were the temperamental Bactrian camels to content with. But she refused to drop out and became first Indian to walk across the fifth largest desert in the world.

It’s a brave new world out there peopled with intrepid adventurers, who are hell bent on conquering extreme challenges. If Chinthapally braced herself for the choppy waters of the English Channel and Khadethankar survived the vagaries of the Gobi desert, there are other young achievers who have pushed the boundaries of their endurance to come out tops in different fields.

Arjun Vajpai has scaled the Everest and several other of the world’s loftiest mountains. Deeya Bajaj has battled the killing cold of Greenland and Kailas Patil has accomplished a gruelling cycling feat. Nothing has held them back not even thoughts of sure death in precarious moments of their endeavours.

Deeya Bajaj took on the 20-day Trans Greenland Cross Country Skiing Expedition to raise money for a cause.
Pic : Jagan Negi

Welcome to the world of endurance sports with youngsters firmly behind the wheel and in complete control.

The incredible ascent

It’s a journey that has killed many. Several experienced climbers have lost their lives en route while others have simply given up mid-way. But that didn’t deter Arjun Vajpai from forging ahead fearlessly and becom- ing the youngest Indian to conquer Mount Everest in 2010.

One moment during the trek, Vajpai looked down the deepest crevice he’d ever seen. Terrified, all he could do was sing his favourite Bryan Adams number, Summer of 69.

But post this gigantic feat, he’s tamed Mt Lhotse in Nepal, the fourth highest mountain in the world (27,940ft) and Mt Manaslu, the eighth highest peak (26,759ft) in the same region.

Vajpai’s obsession with the mountains began when he was 10 and a family friend took him along on an expedition to the Gangotri in Uttarkashi. At 13, Arjun enrolled in the basic course in mountaineering at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Uttarakhand in 2009 and followed it up with an advanced course as part of which he climbed the 18,892ft Draupadi Ka Danda peak in Uttarakhand.

Ramya Chinthapally is the youngest Indian to swim across the English Channel

Hooked to the sport, he touched base with Apa Sherpa, the co-owner of Asian Trekking in Kathmandu, and soon left with 10 other climbers on the arduous Everest trek under the leadership of Apa Sherpa.

Training for his forays into the mountains was gruelling. “I used to tie tractor tyres that weigh about 110kg to my legs and pull them around for four hours to simulate the physical exhaustion that I would experience at high altitudes,” he adds.

Even now Arjun’s regular day starts with yoga at 3am followed by six to seven hours of rigorous training for core-areas strengthening to build up stamina.

His daily diet is huge and includes 15 eggs, three to four litres of milk, half a kilo of sprouts, half a kilo of mutton and half a kilo of chicken. Thrice a week, he adds half a kilo of salad to this menu.

For someone so young, he has his life charted out. Next he plans to ski to the South Pole and dreams of becoming an inspirational speaker. But currently he is studying for a degree in marketing in Delhi. “I have received 100 percent scholarship based on my achievements,” beams Arjun.

No greenhorn

Sucheta Khadethankar experienced the wrath of the Gobi Desert fighting sandstorms, rain and even dealing with temperamental camels.
Pic: Gajanan Dudhalkar

Six months ago, 17-year-old Deeya Bajaj sat huddled inside a tent along with her father and seven other fellow-adventurers in Greenland’s vast, white expanse battling temperatures that dipped to a mind-numbing -45C. “The powerful, icy winds that lashed our tent were frightening but the experience was thrilling,” she says.

Bajaj become the youngest Indian to complete the 20-day long Trans Greenland Cross Country Skiing Expedition from Kangerlussuaq to Isua in Greenland.

The motive behind the expedition was to raise money for Shri Karma, Deeya’s project to collect funds to build a hostel in Haridwar for girls afflicted with leprosy. “People pledged money for every kilometre I skied and I raised Rs 3 lakh for the cause,” she says.

Deeya was no newbie skier when she undertook this expedition. Her first arduous expedition was a sea-kayaking trip in Sjord, Greenland, in 2008 when she was 14. Her inspiration is her father, adventurer Ajeet Bajaj, who became the first Indian to ski to the Poles. Earlier this year when he announced his Greenland plans, she decided to accompany him.

A Taekwondo black belt, Deeya trained hard so that she would be able to endure the daily 10 hours of skiing in Greenland. “I did cardio exercises, light weights and running for an hour,” she says.

Her plans have got more ambitious now. She’s determined to ski to the South Pole.

My favourite Channel

To date Kailas Patil has peddled over 18,000km across the world.
pic: Gajanan Dudhalkar

This September Ramya Chinthapally, 18, became the youngest Indian to swim across the English Channel from Dover to Calais in a six-man relay. The team took 13 hours to complete the entire 22 miles of the Channel with Ramya swimming for two-and-a-half hours to cover her share of six miles.

Daughter of C. Rajashekar, a senior official at the Indian High Commission in London, Ramya was a strong swimmer who had won many inter-school swimming medals. When she expressed her desire to swim across the Channel to her father, he contacted the Channel Swimming Association (CSA) and was informed that Ramya had to undertake a one-hour qualifying swim with Fiona Southwell, a qualified trainer with the Brighton Swimming Club (BSC).

Once she qualified, Ramya signed up at an open pool where she trained for four hours though she would go to the BSC once a fortnight to practise open sea swimming. “The training sessions included six to seven hours of swimming in the sea,” recalls Ramya.

Southwell, who specifically trains Channel swimmers, says: “Ramya lacked open water experience and she needed training to help her deal with the treacherous cold of the Channel.’’

Rajashekar, who spent about 3,000 on his daughter’s enterprise, says: “I was worried about the dangers posed by passing ships. But when I realised that one could hire a boat with two lifeguards and an observer from CSA who would accompany her at all times, I was reassured.’’

The teenager now intends to do a solo swim next year. “I’m hoping to swim the Dardanelles Strait in the north western region of Turkey, the Palk Strait, and also swim from Venezuela in South America to Florida.”

Try Gobi for a change

Two months of the unrelenting sun, the scorching heat and arid landscapes. Sucheta Kadethankar endured this and much more to became the first Indian to walk across Mongolia’s 1,636km burning Gobi desert. A principal information developer with an IT company in Pune and an avid trekker, Kadethankar is an endurance sports enthusiast who has also trekked to the Mount Everest base camp in 2008.

After two rounds of interviews, she was selected for the Gobi Desert 2011 Expedition that’s organised by desert explorer Ripley Davenport. Then Sucheta set out to raise funds for the expedition. “I needed at least Rs 5 lakh and my friends and my company helped me out with Rs 2 lakh while I borrowed the rest from my family,” says Sucheta.

Sucheta set off with an international team of 13 members on May 25 but only seven completed the trek. The team took off from from Bulgan, a sub- district of Khovd Province in the west, to Sainshand the capital city in Dornogovi province in the east of Mongolia.

“The walk wasn’t hard but the landscape was unalteringly arid, and the heat and dust were merciless. The monotony of the landscape also got to us,’’ she recalls. The routine was to walk from 8am to 4.30pm, a time when the camels grow restless and hungry. Sucheta was even kicked by the petulant camels twice.

To prepare herself, she walked the 24km distance to and from her home and office everyday. “Davenport had told everyone to practice walking with three tyres attached together with ropes and tied to our shoulders,” she says.

The challenge has just whet her appetite for more. Now she wants to explore the Great Himalayan Trail across Bhutan, Nepal, India and Pakistan. “I want to establish myself as a world-class trekker,” she says.

Freewheeling

Kailas Patil grew up peddling across Maharashtra. But when the hobby became a passion, the 25-year-old created history. He became the youngest Indian to complete the prestigious Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) Randonneur 2011, the oldest long- distance quadrennial cycling event which requires cyclists to zip 1,200 km within 90 hours. To qualify, a cyclist must complete a series of short cycling distances, called brevets, of 200km, 300km, 400km and then 600km in the same year.

There’s no support vehicle following the cyclists and they are expected to be self-sufficient and carry the food, water and tools that they may require.

Out of the 14 cyclists from India, Patil was among the three to finish the race. A marketing executive, Patil took 75 hours and 17 minutes to finish the ride.

The event, held from August 21 to 25, allowed only short breaks for naps during the journey from Paris to Brest and back, which was broken by intermittent thunderstorms.

The Mumbai-based Patil’s love for cycling drove him to buy his first mountain bike (for Rs 18,000) in 2009. Patil, who has to date peddled over 18,000km across the world, says he has used Rs 2 lakh from his savings to fund the PBP tour.

Next, he’s getting into gear for Race Across America (RAAM) 2013, an event that spans over 3,000 miles across 12 states in the US. “I’m on the lookout for sponsors,” Patil says.

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