Samiir Wheaton does more than just challenging himself, he takes on mammoth tasks that test his fitness limits.
“It was a full moon night; the skies were clear and all I wished for was a view from the top. I decided to climb up a small hillock, but I was left panting, sweating and out of breath. Where did it all go wrong? How did I get from being the fastest, most dreaded swimmer in Rajasthan to someone who couldn’t get up a hill?”, recalls Samiir.
A graduate from National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, Samiir started his interior and furniture design company ‘Wheaton Design Pvt Ltd’ and life got all crazy. Days passed by with Samiir trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance and staying fit was no longer a priority in his life. Introspecting on the impact, Samiir decided he needed to act and that became the turning point for him.
“The journey to fitness started with a climb to Everest Base Camp (EBC) and Imjatse Peak along with my close friends and that provided the impetus for us to do more. We then did the Manali to Leh cycling tour, Silk route trek, 10 days trek up and down the Chadar, and Elbrus Peak between April 2012 – August 2016. Post that, “I took a break to spend some time at home. Soon, I got myself a bike and went on 100K and 250K rides”, he says.
On a flight back home (Jaipur) from Goa, Samiir chanced upon the book “Man Vs Ocean” by Adam Walker and it resonated with him that Adam has been through a similar journey and he turned his weakness into a strength. Samiir recalls, “I got off the plane, messaged him and by the time I was on my way home we had connected. He became my official coach and mentor”.
Becoming a triathlete.
Talking to Samiir on what led him to choose triathlons he says, “The hip injury I sustained years ago posed a challenge for me to run freely and without pain. Nevertheless, I wanted to push on and the thrill of doing three disciplines consecutively excited me and hence I went for triathlons. I started with the Goa Olympic Distance, Thonnur 70.3 and later did the Ironman 70.3 Thailand in 2016. The common issue I faced was pain during the run leg but my spirit and energy made up for it.”
Exploring new frontiers.
Under the training and guidance of Adam Walker, Samiir pushed on to take tougher challenges. “I went to a camp in Malta in April 2018 with Adam to train my mind and body for the 15° channel qualifier which I managed to do by the 5th day and I ended up swimming for 6 hours at a stretch in the freezing waters of the Mediterranean Sea”, he says.
Samiir’s determination and tenacity has made him achieve the unthinkable. He swam the Bhagirathi River (West Bengal) challenge, the world’s largest river swim competition. “This was my first ever recorded swim. The journey, the magnitude of swimming 81K was a distance unfathomable. I had my best buddy Anirban Mukarjee “DADA” to take me through to the end. I couldn’t have trusted and done the race without him as my chief crew. It felt so surreal, with the start at sundown, green fields on both sides, murky brown waters, people in colourful clothes-lining the banks cheering their lungs out and the boat crew rowing alongside you. My coach did not give me any special prep but told me – “It’s just another training session but maybe a bit longer and to remember there is no option than to swim it”. I ended up finishing it in 12:30mins”, Samiir says.
Speaking to him on how he planned his nutrition and hydration for the race, he says “Anirban and I did not have much experience, but we did a rough estimate that it would take us 12 hours and 12,000 calories to complete this. We took a lot of energy-rich food but overdid it a bit which resulted in me expending extra energy in digesting the food. This is good learning for the future. As this was a warm water swim, I had to hydrate myself with 500 ml of water with rock salt every half hour. I normally have water every 30 mins after the first hour. I do not take energy gels, but I alternated carb drinks with some defizzed coke. My nutritionist Luke believes in natural products and slow food and most of my nutrition is usually around fresh, seasonal and local products”.
In October 2018, Samiir also completed the Catalina Channel swim which is a little more than 32K and took him 13.20 hrs. Tough as that was, a new, tougher challenge awaited him in June 2019.
The iconic 20 bridges around Manhattan, New York which is a 48K swim is the coldest Samiir has had to face so far. Alongside the Catalina Channel and the English Channel swims, the 20 bridges swim is recognized as one of the three legs of the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming.
Samiir recalls, “Sitting in a small boat, bouncing your way to the start with the financial district on your side, the Statue of Liberty in front and helicopters buzzing around above was more than a surreal experience. The water temperature of 14°C was not the only thing playing on my mind. Earlier in the year, I had completely torn my right shoulder and that had me worried, but I was focused on the flag at the finish line. The swim itself was tough with the downdraft of helicopters, seaplanes, the wake of the yachts, motorboats, tugs, the tide, the undercurrents – it was all a random rhythm that I had to get used to. I did the 48K stretch in 8.15 hours and I felt a sigh of relief to be back on the boat and head off to the jetty. There was nothing left to chance on this swim and all 16 swimmers finished safely under the watchful eyes of the organizers”.
Any long-distance race beyond 5 – 6 hours requires a great deal of mental strength and when asked where he gets the motivation from, Samiir says, “I take it one step at a time. Every training session, every 100M, I visualize the finishing flag and that gives me immense energy. I always strive to think positive and that helps. I also look at it as a journey that you should enjoy, laugh and learn from people you meet along the way. I derive inspiration from everything around – natural beauty, friends, family, the Shri Shri, my coach Adam, my wife and kids whom I have stories to tell”.
The next big challenge for Samiir is swimming solo across the English Channel between September 5th -13th. Talking to him on his preparation, he says, “I swim, watch world war 2 movies based around the channel and I have no option but to finish and also look forward to the large dinner I can have after finishing”.
Samiir is also undergoing a hip replacement surgery in October and that should help him a great deal. In closing, he says “I just want to be faster and better.”