The only disability is a bad attitude - My Take by Satendra Singh, 1st Asian para swimmer to cross the English Channel

Satendra Singh has a special place in history by becoming the first para swimmer from India to cross the English Channel. From intense training sessions to even mortgaging his house to fund his dream, Singh, who has a 60% disability in both legs, talks about the tremendous odds he fought in My Take this week.

I want to start by saying that I am a very happy man today. Not just because our team of para swimmers has created history by being the first from Asia to cross the English Channel, but because I hope that this success will lead to a change in attitude towards people with disabilities.

Crossing the English Channel has been compared to scaling Mount Everest. Very few people have been able to swim across this. This is because you have to prepare your body in a major way, One challenge is the temperature of the waters. It is 12-13 degrees. The second reason is that the tides can change any time.

My motto in undertaking this challenge was not to achieve fame, but to make people aware that disability is not a physical thing. It is about a bad attitude. It is people’s thoughts and attitudes that make them disabled.

Any person whose thinking is weak is disabled. And how many ever opportunities are thrown his way, he will never succeed. If a person is strong in his mind, he can conquer any problem, financial or physical. This is what the four of us - Remo Saha from West Bengal, Chetan of Maharashtra, and Jagdish from Rajasthan, have shown.

First in Asia

I got the idea of trying out for this challenge in 2015 when I read in the papers about France’s Philippe Croizon. Croizon, who has no hands and legs, crossed the English Channel in 13 hours. I am from a small village in Madhya Pradesh and no one from my state has crossed the Channel so far. I decided to attempt it to bring honors to my state and to my country.

I also noticed that no one in Asia, had crossed the Channel through relay swimming. The four of us met and decided to achieve that milestone and we did it in 12 hours and 26 minutes.

Saying it is easy, achieving it was very tough. We started training in 2016 and faced many struggles from the start. The biggest one was financial. Then, the other problem was the lack of training guidance. We did not know anything about the English Channel, or whom to contact for information. We approached people on Facebook for help but got nowhere.

Right support

Finally, Facebook guided us to Rohan More in Pune, who is the youngest person in the world to swim across the Ocean Seven, which is a marathon of seven long-distance open-water swims. He helped us with the information, whom to contact, the processing, etc.

As preparation, I did a 36k-m swim in Mumbai in 5 hours and 43 minutes, but I was not happy with the practice. I went to London anyway and made a few attempts but failed to qualify and returned to India.

I have always believed that failure shows the path to success and made up my mind to try again. I started training again in October 2017 under Rohan More. I trained for eight months. I faced a lot of financial difficulties. I wrote to several people in the MP government and many sponsors but got no help. Time and again, I was told – ‘How will you do it’? This is even though I was given a state award in 2014.

Finally, Tata Finance which sponsored my first attempt, stepped in. IAS officer P Narhari also helped me with funds. But even all this was not enough, and I had to mortgage my house to fund my dreams. I am worried about repaying the loan. But I am confident that if I can swim the English Channel then I can find a way out of this too.

I believe that if a person has the right thinking, attitude and dream, things will happen. I took up the English Channel challenge with this mindset and I have achieved it. Going ahead, I want to cross the Gibraltar channel and put in my best at the Asian Paralympics. I am going for gold for India.

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