Aarti Saha, First Asian Woman to Cross English Channel

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Image Source: Get Bengal

Aarti Saha was an Indian swimmer. She was the first Asian female swimmer to cross the English channel. She is the first female athlete to get Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian honor in India. She was a child prodigy. At a time when not many women took up swimming as a vocation, she opened up new avenues for them.

Born on 24th September 1940, Aarti was only 2yrs. Old when her mother died. She used to go swimming with her father to Champaghat in Kolkata. He was quick to spot the hidden talent in her. She started to receive formal training from Sachin Nag, the ace swimmer credited to bring India its first medal in Asian Games. What followed was years of hard work and dedication. In 1946, she won her first gold medal. In 1951, she broke the national record in the 100m breaststroke. She became the youngest athlete to debut for India in the 1952 Olympics at the age of 11year. Her failure pushed Aarti to work hard and prepare for high-intensity matches. By the time she was 18, she had already won 22 medals at the state and national levels.

On 27th September 1958, Mihir Sen, the champion swimmer crossed the English channel. He was the first Indian and second Asian to do so. He inspired Aarti to dream big. Her first attempt to cross the English channel ended in failure. She decided to give it one more shot. On September 29, 1959, Aarti crossed the English Channel in 16hrs. In doing so she became the first Asian female to do so. She was only 18yrs old.

But what is it about the English Channel that makes it so special for swimmers? To put it simply, it is to swimmers what Mt. Everest is to climbers. It is a 32 kilometers stretch of water that separates France and England. For the first half, the current pushes upward and then downwards. The temperature is between 14 to 18 degree Celsius. It is also one of the busiest shipping corridors in the world. So many swimmers have it at the top of their bucket lists.

Aarti completed her studies and was employed at Bengal Nagpur railway. She married Dr. Arun Gupta, her manager. On the 23rd of August Aarti died because of jaundice and encephalitis. In 1960 to celebrate her victory, the government of India gave her Padma Shri. In 1996 a bust of Aarti was erected near her residence and the lane was renamed after her. In 1999 the government issued a postal stamp of Rs. 3 in the denomination in her name. On the day of her 80th birthday google honored her with a doodle.

Tragically, she died at the young age of 42 in 1994, but her legacy as an accomplished swimmer and trailblazer for women in sports continues to inspire generations of athletes. Aarti’s story is a story of resilience, a constant pursuit of perfection, passion, undying determination, and exemplary courage.

Nidhi Raj is a homemaker, storyteller, and mother with a keen interest in women’s issues and international relations.

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Aarti Saha, First Asian Woman to Cross English Channel

Image Source: Get Bengal

Aarti Saha was an Indian swimmer. She was the first Asian female swimmer to cross the English channel. She is the first female athlete to get Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian honor in India. She was a child prodigy. At a time when not many women took up swimming as a vocation, she opened up new avenues for them.

Born on 24th September 1940, Aarti was only 2yrs. Old when her mother died. She used to go swimming with her father to Champaghat in Kolkata. He was quick to spot the hidden talent in her. She started to receive formal training from Sachin Nag, the ace swimmer credited to bring India its first medal in Asian Games. What followed was years of hard work and dedication. In 1946, she won her first gold medal. In 1951, she broke the national record in the 100m breaststroke. She became the youngest athlete to debut for India in the 1952 Olympics at the age of 11year. Her failure pushed Aarti to work hard and prepare for high-intensity matches. By the time she was 18, she had already won 22 medals at the state and national levels.

On 27th September 1958, Mihir Sen, the champion swimmer crossed the English channel. He was the first Indian and second Asian to do so. He inspired Aarti to dream big. Her first attempt to cross the English channel ended in failure. She decided to give it one more shot. On September 29, 1959, Aarti crossed the English Channel in 16hrs. In doing so she became the first Asian female to do so. She was only 18yrs old.

But what is it about the English Channel that makes it so special for swimmers? To put it simply, it is to swimmers what Mt. Everest is to climbers. It is a 32 kilometers stretch of water that separates France and England. For the first half, the current pushes upward and then downwards. The temperature is between 14 to 18 degree Celsius. It is also one of the busiest shipping corridors in the world. So many swimmers have it at the top of their bucket lists.

Aarti completed her studies and was employed at Bengal Nagpur railway. She married Dr. Arun Gupta, her manager. On the 23rd of August Aarti died because of jaundice and encephalitis. In 1960 to celebrate her victory, the government of India gave her Padma Shri. In 1996 a bust of Aarti was erected near her residence and the lane was renamed after her. In 1999 the government issued a postal stamp of Rs. 3 in the denomination in her name. On the day of her 80th birthday google honored her with a doodle.

Tragically, she died at the young age of 42 in 1994, but her legacy as an accomplished swimmer and trailblazer for women in sports continues to inspire generations of athletes. Aarti’s story is a story of resilience, a constant pursuit of perfection, passion, undying determination, and exemplary courage.

Nidhi Raj is a homemaker, storyteller, and mother with a keen interest in women’s issues and international relations.