A popular London daily had once quoted “Even a mighty ocean can become your pond if you believe hard enough”. This quote from the daily was on Masudur Rahman Baidya, the only man with amputated legs to cross the English Channel in 1997 English Channel in July 1997 and the Strait of Gibraltar in September 2001.
Born in Ballavpur village of N.24 Parganas district of West bengal, Rahman became a worldwide phenomenon after crossing the English Channel. It is not every day that one comes across people who dare to embrace what life has to offer and make the most of what they have rather than fret about what they do not.
Having lost both his legs, knee downwards in a train accident at the tender age of 11, life could have ended for Masudur. Instead of resigning himself in discouragement, he decided to turn his life around and when he did so, the world was in awe.
Born as a son to a Muslim Imam, who’s salary was merely Rs 250 a month, getting artificial limbs was quite a difficult ask for Masudur. His family, however, arranged it and in 1989, he was once again able to walk using artificial limbs. Being an astute sportsman, Masudur dominated whatever sports he pursued despite having a disability.
His laborious training sessions at the swimming pool rewarded him the winner’s trophy in many inter-club competitions in Kolkata. It was then followed by many long-distance swimming opportunities, starting with a 14 km swim on the Hooghly river organized by the Ahiritola Youth Swimming Club in Kolkata where he stood 5th, followed by the world’s longest swimming competitions held in 1993 and 1995, where he swam 81 kms and stood in the 9th place the first time and 5th the second. The rest we know is that ‘he made history’ as he became the first male swimmer in the world to cross the English Channel without legs in 1997 and first Asian and second in the world to cross the Strait of Gibraltar in 2001 against all odds.
Fame followed, as he received recognition world over from countries like Holland, Spain, Japan, USA, Africa among others. He was interviewed by BBC and was given the post of state Swimming Coach in 2004. But nothing seemed to shake this humble man, as he remained humbled and true to his passion.
Even Indian cricket legend, master blaster Sachin Tendulkar was an admirer of Masudur, who had once said, “They are the real heroes and their life is like an inspiration to all of us,” after being overwhelmed by Masudur’s achievements.
The swimmer, who was not keeping well for days, suffered a massive heart-attack at the age of 46 which took his life.