13-year-old Jiya Rai becomes the youngest and fastest female swimmer in the world to swim across the Palk Strait. The autistic swimmer began her swim from Palk Strait, Talaimannar in Sri Lanka at 4.22 AM on 20th March and reached Arichalmunai in Dhanushkodi, Tamil Nadu at 5.32PM on the same day. She covered 28.5 kms in just 13 hours and 10 minutes. Although Jiya holds a world record in open water swimming, this achievement has added a feather in her cap. She now joins the elite group of swimmers such as Kutraleeswaran (1994), R Jai Jaswanth (2019), Edi Hu of the US (2020) and Shyamala Koli (2021), who swam from Sri Lanka to Dhanushkodi.
Jiya has broken the world record of Bula Choudhary who swam this distance in 13 hours and 52 minutes in the year 2004.
At Dhanushkodi, she was welcomed by the Director General of Tamil Nadu Police, C Sylendra Babu and a huge crowd gathered to congratulate her. The DGP said that the stretch is filled with water snakes, jellyfish, and rapidly changing currents, which can make it difficult to swim even a kilometre in 3 to 4 hours.
She was honoured by Ramanathapuram SP E Karthik and Municipal vice-chairman Dhakshinamoorthy.
The Indian Navy also congratulated her by sharing a laudatory note on its Facebook page.
The event was conducted by Para-Swimming Federation of India (PSFI). Sri Lanka’s Navy provided search and rescue services in Lankan waters, while the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard provided these services along its maritime borders.
Jiya Rai lives in Mumbai. Her father Madan Rai is an officer in the Indian Navy. She is studying in a Navy children school. She was diagnosed with autism when she was a little over 2 years old. Later, her doctor noticed that her repetitive knocking could be useful as a therapy in water sports. As a result, Jiya seemed comfortable in water and developed a lifelong love for swimming.
The journey was not easy for her as well as her parents. Being an autistic, initially it was difficult for her to grasp the technicalities of swimming. Her understanding of the sea current and simple things like replacing a start line by a whistle required a lot of conditioning. But her never ending attitude and her parents’ determination made her win laurels.
This is not the first time when Jiya has achieved such accolade. She was awarded the “Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Puraskar (PMRBP)” – 2022; it is the highest honour given to citizens of India below 18 years of age. In February 2021, she became the youngest and the first autistic girl to swim from Worli Sea Link to Gateway of India. She took 8 hours and 4 minutes to cover this distance of 36 kms. She has also received appreciation from the Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his show “Mann Ki Baat”.
Her other achievements include:
- As the first autistic girl in the world to swim 14 km in three hours and 27 minutes from Elephanta Island to the Gateway of India, Jiya succeeded in setting a world record in February 2020. She entered Asia Book of Records and India Book of Records.
- She became the first para-swimmer to swim from Arnala Fort to Vasai Fort in January 2021. She covered a distance of 22 km in 7 hours and 4 minutes.
- In March 2021, she won 3 Gold Medals in the Twentieth National Para-Swimming Championship 2020.
- She was also the winner of 24 Gold Medals and 1 Silver Medal in the National and State Swimming/Open Water Sea Swimming Championship.
The young swimmer dreams to become the first and youngest para-swimmer in the world to swim seven oceans.