Raha Tabatabaei, member of Sabancı Business School, had a very important swimming achievement in the US. Managing to swim across the Catalina Channel known as “the Mount Everest of marathon swimming” in 15 hours, Tabatabaei talked to gazeteSU about a wide range of topics from her passion for swimming to her targets.
-How did your interest in swimming begin?
I learned swimming before learning how to read and write! From that very early age, I loved being in the water all the time. It was tough for my parents to get me out of the pool every time I had a chance to swim. When I was growing up in Iran, because of the school work I didn’t have much chance to swim until I entered the university. There I was recruited to the swim team and competed for 4 years with my team against other universities. That period defiantly installed a permanent affection for the competitive sports and systematic training in me. When I moved to the US for my PhD again I took a break from it but I always knew that I would go back to it one day. When I got my first academic job in Bogota, Colombia I was introduced to the sport of triathlon and started training for the 3 sports of swimming, biking and running for short distances. I did my first race swimming from a mini-island to the main island in the Caribbean sea and at that moment I realized this is what I want to do: to swim in the sea, in the open water, in the nature. That feeling of infinity, endlessness of the sea and the ocean is something that is not comparable to any other feeling I have experienced in my life. Then I moved to Turkey to work at Sabancı University and I decided to participate in the annual swim race in the Bosphorus in 2017. I began training for it with discipline and when the race finished, I felt like I wanted to do more. So I began to look into longer races and options. Fortunately in Turkey there is a large community of open water swimmers and many races in beautiful spots of the country, so I was very motivated to train and practice.
-How can you describe swimming in your life?
Swimming is my passion, it is what gives me calm and peace like meditation. Whenever I am happy I wanna swim, when I am sad or angry or anxious about something I also want to go swim. It makes me find my core, my purpose and strength again. It has helped me tremendously in life.
-You finished difficult and dangerous open-water swim route in US. Can you tell us the preparation process for this track?
For this particular swim, which is the longest I have done in my life I started preparing since 2 years ago. I first worked hard on correcting my technique with the help of a Turkish coach. Since you need to repeat the same motions a few thousand times in each practice or the main swim, it is very important to use your muscles and power in the most efficient way possible. Good technique helps you achieve that. Then I started working on my endurance and getting my mind and body used to the distance. It was particularly difficult to keep up with a training plan since the pools were closed for a long time due to the pandemic. So I had to train in the sea, but then the mucilage came and that option was also gone… it was a very challenging two years for my training but I always found some solution to not quit and finally made it.
-Can you tell us about your other achievements in swimming?
In 2019 I swam from Ireland to Scotland with a team of four in the form of relay. Each of us would swim for an hour and change with the next person and repeat, until we reached land. It took us around 13 hours in 12-14 degree waters with horrendous jelly fish that is particular to that area. With the same team and one month later, we also crossed the English Channel. In Turkey, I participate in the Bosporus race every year in Istanbul, but also in longer races for 5 to 10 km in Alanya, Bodrum, Marmaris. I have won several medals in those races, mainly I became fist in my age group for a swim from Greece (Meis Island) to Kas in 2019. I have swum many times from Caddebostan Sahil to the islands and back as part of my trainings, I know every house and rock around Kınalıada and Burgazada by heart now.
-We know that your academic life is very busy. How do you combine your swimming activities with your academic life?
I do it with a lot of planning and perseverance. I usually wake up very early to train and get that out of my way, then start to work. On the weekends I do my long trainings when I have more time. But sometimes I have to miss on training of course, if there is a deadline or some academic event such as a conference. But overall I can say that I have found a good balance now. My dean and my colleagues are also very supportive and encouraging and that helps a lot.
-Do you have any goals you want to achieve in swimming in the future?
I am planning to swim the English Channel (from England to France) in solo (without a team, only by myself swimming all the way) and round Manhattan Island in New York. I have also registered for crossing the Gibraltar from Spain to Morocco. These are my organized future plans for now, hopefully within the next two years. But I would also like to try new routes in Turkey, in the Marmara sea and also in Ege. I enjoy swimming in every part of Turkey very much!