marathon swimmer no more

In 1994, 12 year old Kutral Ramesh swam across the English Channel — that’s over 32 km (21 miles). That same year, he swam across five more channels to get into the Guinness World Records. He remains the youngest to cross the Channel.

Over the next four years, he won an 81 km (50 mile) race, won the Chinmoy meet at Zurich and participated (and placed well) in many marathon swims. Then, aged 16, he quit professional swimming. I found a 2004 interview of his where he explains his decision:

“Mmm… Well, I’d put it this way: love for the sport is one thing, being practical is another. I quit due to three reasons. Lack of sponsorship. Each swim trip costs lakhs of rupees. My folks shelled out for a couple of competitions, but that wasn’t possible after a point. Companies were reluctant to sponsor marathon swimming for very obvious reasons: it wasn’t a popular sport.

“No security. Let’s face it, in India there are many stars from lesser-known sport currently leading a not so comfortable life, which is really sad. This may sound mean or selfish, but it is, nevertheless, true. It is nice to sit back and think that I have won a medal for my country. It feels nice to be recognised by the media and the public. It truly feels worth the troubles. But what next? I thought about it. After my time in the sport comes to an end, will these `recognitions’ alone suffice? You know the answer.

In college I couldn’t afford to miss out on months of classes to train and participate in competitions for which I couldn’t even find a sponsor.”

“It’s not that I’d have become a Sachin, Paes or an Anand otherwise. I was a talented marathon swimmer. I’ve always belonged to wild waters. The sport has brought me fame and provided me an avenue to prove to the world that I’m capable of something. Let’s face it, if it were not for the sport, you wouldn’t be interviewing me.

“Unfortunately, the sport is expensive and devoid of monetary rewards in our country. Marathon swimming is very popular in Australia, Italy and the States. In fact, when I was in Italy to compete, the Government offered to adopt me if I would swim for them. I declined. For, pride and satisfaction lie in representing one’s own country. And let me tell you, the feeling is unparalleled.”

He quit for lack of sponsorship. In another interview he says, “Ethically, it was a painful decision, but logically practical and comfortable” (…) “(I now go to the sea) purely for recreational purposes only, and try not to wet my clothes.”

He’s doing well, going by his LinkedIn profile. He went to MIT’s Sloan Business School and is now works at Citi.

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