On 9 September 2007, Vijaya Claxton, a student of Sri Chinmoy from New York, became the oldest American woman to swim the English channel. This story is told by Sahana and Bahula, who were her assistants on the support boat, and Nilima, who was keeping Sri Chinmoy informed of Vijaya's progress that day.
Sahana: Vijaya made several attempts to swim the English Channel. On one occasion I was on the boat as one of her helpers. She was close to finishing, and had been swimming parallel to the French coast because she could not break through the tides and get to shore. Finally, we saw the lighthouse which signaled the end of the coast. The pilot came out and said, “Whatever you guys do—praying or singing—do it. But if she misses that lighthouse, then there’s nothing I can do. She’s in the open sea, and we’ll have to pull her out.”
I immediately called Nilima, who was at Sri Chinmoy’s house with a small gathering of disciples. Vijaya had been fighting and fighting for nearly 22 hours and now everything was very, very close. At any moment she could be thrown into the open sea. Within minutes of Sri Chinmoy’s being informed, the pilot came out and said, “I can’t believe what just happened. The current changed direction. We’re putting the dinghy out.”
When the dinghy goes out, you know the swimmer has made it. Since the larger boat cannot go all the way to the land, the dinghy accompanies the swimmer for the last 15 or 20 minutes. Vijaya was finally able to break through the tide and was on her way to the shore. Hardly ever in my life have I felt such a real, concrete victory!
Bahula: While Vijaya still had a few minutes to go, the celebrations on the boat began. We were calling everyone and laughing and, at the same time, crying with delight. Vijaya swam onto France’s sandy Wissant Beach and stood up on the shore after having swum for 22 hours and 27 minutes in cold water. It was a soulful, glorious and unforgettable moment.
Vijaya’s friends and admirers were waiting at the dock back in Dover, England to congratulate and welcome her with open arms. On this sparkling Sunday morning, a group of former English Channel swimmers all turned out. Their heartfelt and sincere admiration for Vijaya was obvious. Alison Streeter, the 'Queen of the Channel', hugged her, shook her hand, and said, “Welcome to the club, Vijaya!” and added, “Another one for Sri Chinmoy!”
Nilima: When I think of my experience in Queens on the day of Vijaya’s successful Channel swim, I marvel most at Sri Chinmoy’s expression of concern for her effort and his constant involvement. There was no way I could have assisted on her boat, because just thinking of the ocean makes me seasick, so I was keeping in touch from New York. Sri Chinmoy asked if I would call Vijaya’s boat on my cell phone to see how she was doing at that moment, and thus began my task as Channel liaison. After speaking to Sahana on the boat, I conveyed to the Master that Vijaya was feeling quite strong, but was having trouble with nausea and seasickness. Shortly after that, I heard back that Vijaya’s seasickness had disappeared.
The Master had written a race prayer as part of a series that he composed weekly. I was happy when I realised that it had a swimming theme, so I conveyed the prayer to the boat. Sri Chinmoy also set tune to the prayer, as he often did, and Tanima, an excellent singer and musician, later taught the song to Sahana and Bahula over the phone. They sang it for Vijaya as she was swimming. The prayer reads:
My Lord Supreme,
No more will You suffer
For my sake.
My life has stopped swimming
Sri Chinmoy 1
During Vijaya’s swim, Sri Chinmoy frequently asked what her situation was. Each time he was informed of a problem, the next thing I heard was that it had been resolved, as was the case with her early nausea. It was as if Sri Chinmoy was already aware of each difficulty, and was taking action to solve the problem on the spiritual level even as he was asking us for information.
During the last hour or so, everything was touch and go, with the real possibility—although Vijaya was very near the shore and swimming her hardest—that the tide could sweep her back out to sea. Through the phone I could hear the crew members screaming, “Swim! Swim faster! Go, go!”
When I told Sri Chinmoy of Vijaya’s dire predicament, he meditated deeply for a few minutes and then gave an enigmatic smile. I was on the phone with Sahana during the final moments, when the current suddenly changed direction, enabling Vijaya to swim to shore just in the nick of time. She took her first steps onto the French shore, and I was as thrilled and ecstatic as those who witnessed her success in person.
After Vijaya finished, Sri Chinmoy commented:
“Concern is not a mere dictionary word. Concern can be a reality of the heart. In my case, concern was a reality of the heart for Vijaya’s swim, not a mere dictionary word. I offered tremendous, tremendous concern for her victory.”
Vijaya later said: “I have always been a very determined person. My favorite poem by my spiritual teacher, Sri Chinmoy, is:
I do not give up,
I never give up,
For there is nothing
In this entire world
That is irrevocably unchangeable.
Sri Chinmoy 2