The Swimming Relay

Every year Sri Chinmoy goes on a Christmas Trip and from all over the world, several hundred people join the trip. In the Christmas/New Year of 1993/1994 the trip went to some of the Pacific Islands, and in early January 1994 the contingent was to be found in Suva, Fiji.

It was during this section that a swimming relay race was organised by the Germans, the girls of whom were mostly super swimmers. There were four to a team – their team comprising English Channel swimmers and triathletes such as Vasanti Niemz and Praphulla Nocker. The Australia and New Zealand girls team featured Sushmitam Rouse (from Melbourne), Subarata Cunningham, Nishima Knowsley (both from Auckland) – who were all really good swimmers – and myself (from Hamilton), who was the weak link!

In order to train for the event we went to the Municipal Pool in Suva (where the event was to be held the very next day!) and I found that I couldn’t swim a length without stopping for breath. The rest of the team effortlessly cleaved through the water and encouraged me to keep going. By the end of the session I was exhausted and my arms ached badly.

I was determined to do my very best for the team, nonetheless, and tried not to be too intimidated the next day as Sri Chinmoy and the entire contingent of Sri Chinmoy Centre members trooped in to spectate, and – as all the teams lined up – just how fit and superb the German girls team looked in their professional Olympic-standard racing togs, bathing caps and – to my sincere dread – goggles.

Anyway as the rather serious-looking timekeeping crew organised themselves (timekeepers – yikes!!) I was fervently praying that I wouldn’t bore them and the crowd too much with my performance – and then the race began! Sushmitam took off to a mighty start – cleanly and evenly matching the equally clean and even German rival team member – and together they set a clear lead early in the length, leaving all of the other teams floundering in their wake.

Glumly I mounted the diving steps – Gee it was a long way down! (I was second swimmer as the rest of my team wanted to get me over with quickly, then do their best to make up whatever I lost. That, at least, was the Plan.) As the heroic Sushmitam – neck and neck with the German swimmer – neared the wall, I was praying that I wouldn’t let the team down by too much, and I looked down. To my utter horror there was the world’s most HUGE CRAB at the bottom of the pool. I don’t mean just big – I mean HUGE! But then I was diving! Into the water! Where The Crab Was!

It is a known fact that in moments of sheer terror in humans, an automatic panic phenomenon kicks in called the ‘fight or flight’ response. Adrenalin floods your system giving you abnormal powers of reflex, enabling a rapid reaction to horrific stimuli. On the way down to the water, as the adrenalin flooded my system, my mind filled with unspeakable visions of The Crab chasing me down the pool. I hit the water already swimming, raced down the entire length and out the other end without even touching the bottom of the pool. On the way out I nearly hit Nishima who was diving in. My heart was pounding and what’s more, nothing except a direct command from God Himself would ever induce me to get into that pool again!

Our team (l-r: Toshala,  Subarata, Nishima) receiving their prizes for coming first in the swimming relay in Suva, Fiji.

It served its purpose. I had totally blitzed the field and the remaining two strong members of the team (Nishima and Subarata) swam us to an easy victory. (Subarata said, “What came over you? You were like a madwoman!”)

That was the fastest length by far that I have ever or will ever swim but sadly the splits were not taken. It is the story of my life – the fastest 100 metres I have ever run was when a ram was chasing me – a hazard of taking a shortcut across his paddock – but no one was there to time that either! C’est la vie!