Mumbai, Oct 1 (UNI) Eight-year-old Mumbai girl Swapnali Yadav became the new 'Little Mermaid' in the world of swimming after she crossed 30 km stretch of Messinikos Gulf in Greece.
She was the sole participant from India to represent the country in the 19th Open World Swimming Marathon, organised by the Greece Swimming Association under the aegis of FINA, in Kalamata, Greece on September 1.
At eight years and seven months, Swapnali, a resident of Andheri, became the youngest-ever in Open World Swimming Marathon history to join an elite group of 16 swimmers from around the globe between the ages of 22 and 49, which included 23-year-old English Channel swimmer Cech David of the Czech Republic and Olympian Ilija.
The organisers had set a target of 12 hours to complete the marathon, but Swapnali stunned the world by completing the stretch in an impressive time of 11 hours and 10 minutes.
Addressing a news conference here today, a beaming Swapnali said ''Though I have done the Uran-Gateway and Dharamtar-Gateway trips, the experience in Greece was unforgettable. There was a lot to learn and I received so much support from all around. I was also delighted to complete the race in 11 hours and 10 minutes, because the ogranisers had set the 12 hours deadline.'' ''I went into the water with lot of confidence. That comes from my passion for swimming. Moreover, I was swimming with former Olympians and English Channel swimmers, which was very encouraging and enhanced my confidence,'' she added.
While 14 swimmers, including Swapnali, completed the marathon, 24-year-old Leandro Rios of Argentina and 43-year-old Adel Ibrahim of Egypt dropped out midway.
''I knew I had to finish the race. I had trained very hard for the occasion. I am proud that I was among the 14 who completed the race especially after being the youngest-ever,'' Swapnali said.
''There is a lot more to achieve. But, in the near future, I hope to swim the English Channel. I also hope my effort inspires other swimmers of my age to achieve similar feats and much more,'' she suggested.
''I also believe we swimmers, especially those who achieve so much individually after making so many sacrifices, deserve much more recognition from the media, who I think are only cricket-crazy. Long distance swimming is not easy. Aren't we making a significant effort. What do we get in return? Virtually nothing. In fact, my swim in Greece went unnoticed,'' she said.
A standard IV student of the Raigad Military School at Oshiwara, Swapnali trained rigorously for the last four years at the Prabodhankar Thackeray Swimming Pool, Vile Parle and Ozone, Goregaon under ace coach Raju Palkar.
She has earned many medals and records at the school, district and State levels. Her significant achievements include one, completing the 12 km Mora Jetty, Uran to Gateway of India stretch on April 23, 2006 in a record time of 5 hours, at just 7 years, 4 months and second, on November 10, 2006, she crossed the 35 km Dharamtar to Gateway of India stretch in just 10 hours and 10 minutes.
Born into a middle-class household, Swapnali's parents -- Gopal and Sailee -- bore the major expenses for the trip, while the Maharashtra government also provided the financial assistance.
Her immediate plan is to swim the English Channel in the near future.