Reprinted with the kind permission of IndiaNZ Outlook newspaper

Three champions: Harita Davies, Alison Roe, Abhejali Bernardova

The national Sri Chinmoy Centre hosted a rare sports presentation last month that brought together two remarkable women athletes to venues in Auckland and Wellington in what proved to be inspirational occasions for the audiences. The two evenings were part of a “Meetings with Remarkable People” national series of free talks, in which outstanding men and women share their experiences and encourage others to tackle their own life’s dreams and challenges. February’s recent talks were titled ‘Challenging Impossibility’ and featured two extraordinary achievers : Czech ‘Oceans-7’ ultra-distance swimmer Abhejali Bernardova, and Kiwi runner Harita Davies, the only NZ woman to ever compete in and complete the world’s longest certified running race, the gruelling, New York based 3,100 mile ultra.

Guest speaker and Czech swimmer Abhejali Bernardova outlined the rare feat of attempting the seven great ocean challenges. She had completed the previous six most challenging crossings over the past ten years, including the North Channel (Ireland to Scotland), the Molokai Channel (Hawaii), the English Channel, the Catalina Channel (USA), the Tsugaru Strait (Japan) and the Strait of Gibraltar (Spain). Among numerous other remarkable swims Abhejali had completed was the Robben Island to Capetown crossing in South Africa, a stretch of water known for its dangerous sharks. The rules of the Open Water Swimming society require that the Ocean-7 crossings must be swum without the aid of a wetsuit, and the attempts accompanied by an official witness.

Despite rough seas and strong currents making any chance of a crossing very difficult, Abhejali Bernadova last month succeeded in swimming the Cook Strait and became the 10th person in the world to complete the seven oceans challenge. She completed the swim in 13 hours and 9 minutes, arriving at the tip of the South Island around 9.20pm. For several hours during the swim, and only six miles from the South Island, Abhejali was fighting merely to hold her position and not be pulled back towards Wellington. Finally, around 6pm when the currents settled she was able to continue making headway.

The window of opportunity is always a small one in attempting the Cook Strait crossing, as swimmers can only make their attempt during either the full moon or on the half moon. At these times the currents and tides are at their calmest. With cyclone Gita hitting New Zealand three days earlier, Abhejali had to cancel an earlier attempt due to rough seas – as it was, Abhejali battled high swells, seasickness and painful stings from jellyfish encountered in the water.

 

Abhejali’s most arduous swim was the Molokai Channel off Hawaii, a 22 hour epic in strong currents and with seasickness preventing her from being able to eat or drink and regain energy. Remarkably, she completed each of these seven great swims on her first attempt. While 348 have completed the seven summits challenge – the scaling of the world’s seven highest mountains – so far only nine swimmers have completed the ‘Oceans-7’ challenge. Also a Czech 24 hour, 100km and 6 day race running champion, Abhejali is now the 10th person, 4th woman and first from a landlocked country to do so. The first woman to complete the challenge was Swedish Anna Carin Nordin.

Abhejali was crewed on her swim by several friends and also Harita Davies, who in 2017 became New Zealand’s first woman to compete in and complete the world’s longest race – the Self Transcendence 3,100 mile race inspired by spiritual master Sri Chinmoy. Both women share a practice of meditation learnt from Sri Chinmoy, who inspired many people to believe in their unlimited potential and reach unprecedented goals. Harita also spoke at the ‘Challenging Impossibility’ evening and talked about her recent 3,100 mile epic. She jogged and ran over 96 km every day for 54 consecutive days in an ultra event described by the New York Times as “The Mount Everest of Ultramarathons.” The 3100 ultra has runners circling around a half-mile city block in suburban Queens during the heat of the summer, and only six women have ever completed the 3100 mile distance in the previous twenty events. Only one other New Zealander has ever attempted the challenging epic journey.

The two speakers showed footage of their respective achievements and shared inspirational stories, nutrition and training tips, and insights into our limitless potential when mind/body/spirit can work together. Harita comments: “Many of us go through life wondering about what we might have done if we had dared to attempt something daunting and difficult. 3100 miles really frightened me, but I decided to venture into that frightening place and challenge myself and see what I could learn. It’s one of the best and happiest and most amazing experiences I have ever had. For a spiritual Master like Sri Chinmoy to give such importance to physical endeavors signifies a new direction in spirituality. It acknowledges the great contribution that the body is capable of making to the ultimate perfection of our human life.”

Sri Chinmoy writes: “At every moment we have the golden opportunity to go high, higher, highest on the strength of our inner mounting cry. Each time our aspiration, our mounting cry, touches the highest pinnacle, it is fired again. The goal that it touches need not and cannot be the ultimate Goal, for today’s goal is tomorrow’s starting point. Again, tomorrow’s goal will be the starting point for the day after tomorrow. There is no end to our realisation. There is no end to our self-transcendence…. In order to transcend, two things are of paramount importance: our personal effort and God’s Grace. By personal effort alone, we cannot transcend ourselves. Again, God’s Grace will not do anything unless and until we are receptive. If we can receive God’s Grace and properly use it, then only can we reach the Highest. A sincere seeker is transcending his previous reality at every moment. Like a potter who accepts clay and moulds it into something beautiful, a spiritual seeker accepts the life of ignorance and tries to transform it with his inner wisdom-light.”

From the strict spiritual point of view nothing is ultimate. Everything is transcending. We call something ultimate according to the realisation of our goal. But tomorrow we can climb up and stand on top of the reality which we yesterday considered as the ultimate and perfect it. Today’s ultimate consciousness has to be transcended by tomorrow’s more intense aspiration.”

Read article on:
European completes Ocean’s Seven with Cook Strait swim on Stuff
Article on Abhejali’s feat by Vasanti Niemz at Sri Chinmoy Races
Other article and video on English Channel swimming

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