Crossing the English Channel is an extreme sport that is considered equal to climbing Mount Everest, and has claimed 8 lives throughout the years. On September 29, 1959, exactly 62 years ago Arati Saha wrote history in golden letters by doing the extreme. She became the first Asian woman to cross the English Channel just at the age of 19. Saha became the first-ever female recipient of the Padma Shri in 1960.
Born in Kolkata, on September 24, 1940, Saha had her endless love for swimming at an early age. Her first-ever swimming lesson was in the Hooghly River. Her father noticed her interest and took her to Hatkhola Swimming Club, where her talent was recognized by Sachin Nag, India’s first Asian Games gold medalist, who chose to train her.
Saha participated in the national championship held in Mumbai in 1948. After winning India two silver in 100m freestyle and 200m breaststroke, 200m in bronze freestyle, she had her first triumph.
Saha’s International career took off in 1952 with the Summer Olympic Games at Helsinki, Finland. Inspired by the achievements of Bangladeshi Swimmer Brojen Das, the first Asian to swim across the English Channel, and the first person to cross it six times, she attempted to cross the English Channel at the age of 18.
After one failed attempt, she tried again on September 29, 1959. From Cape Gris Nez, France, to reach Sandgate, England, Saha battled with tough waves for a distance of 42 miles for 16 hours and 20 minutes, hence history was created. Upon reaching the coast of England, she hoisted the Indian flag. She was congratulated by prominent figures such as Vijaylakshmi Pandit, Jawahar Lal Nehru, and many others. Her achievement was proudly announced on All India Radio.
On 23 August 1994, at 53 years of age, Saha died because of acute jaundice and encephalitis. Arati Saha has always been a known name in Bengali households while growing up. She will keep on inspiring thousands of women of our country and the world, to battle through tough waves no matter how dreadful it is, because the victory is always sweet and worth all struggles.
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