Swimming has been in his blood ever since he was a little kid. He used to jump into the Bishkhali river right after he returned home from school and crossed it daily when he was five or six. He lived and breathed swimming.
So it was no wonder that Saiful Islam Rasel aka 'The Seahorse' double crossed the Bangla Channel after successfully crossing it thrice earlier.
Rasel became the first-ever Bangladeshi to double cross the Bangla Channel on March 29, 2021. The competition was arranged by Shwaroz Adventure to celebrate Bangladesh's 50th anniversary.
The Bangla Channel is a 16.1 km crossing in the Bay of Bengal from Shahpuri Island to the St. Martin's Island jetty.
There were a few unsuccessful attempts by Bangladeshi swimmers to double cross the channel back in 2007 (Lipton Sarker) and 2013 since it was established in 2006. Even this time, there were four other swimmers - Shamsuzzaman Arafat,
Moniruzzaman, Rabbi Rahman, Ershad Hossain Morshed - who attempted a double cross but they had to stop midway.
Previously two Indian swimmers double crossed this channel and one Dutch swimmer attempted but failed.
Rasel previously crossed the Bangla Channel three times - in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
He broke the record of the fastest cross in 2018 with a time of 3 hours 8 minutes and 7 seconds while the previous best was 3 hours and 40 minutes.
Even then, double crossing the Bangla Channel was beyond his imagination. He did plan to do this when he first crossed the Bangla Channel in 2018 but he had to check himself.
"It was beyond my imagination (that I could double cross). I'm really happy that I became the first Bangladeshi to achieve such a feat."
"I couldn't attempt it even after planning quite a few times. Our seniors failed a few times, so I had to gather experience and inspiration," Rasel told The Business Standard (TBS).
Rasel feels proud and happy at the same time that he could be the first Bangladeshi ever to double cross the 16.1 km channel despite the adverse weather.
"It was beyond my imagination (that I could double cross). I'm really happy that I became the first Bangladeshi to achieve such a feat," said a proud Rasel.
Rasel's swimming began from a very early age, from the time he had memory. His first competitive swimming was back in 2001 when he was still in primary school.
"I became champion in the inter-school swimming tournament in 2001."
Rasel wasn't aware of divisional or national level swimming beyond his primary inter-school competitions back then. He got another chance in 2002 and became champion there as well. He got success everywhere he participated, be it divisional level or national level in Barguna and Barishal.
There was no stopping the 'Seahorse' Rasel.
He led his university swimming team to inter-varsity tournament glory after 12 long years in 2019. That is when his friends and co-swimmers came up with the name 'Seahorse'.
"I was a bit shy at first using this name but now it got stuck," Rasel explained.
Rasel decided to take swimming seriously at a very early age. He came to Dhaka and won trophies there as well.
But he had to pause for a while as he got admitted into Dhaka College in 2010. He didn't have many opportunities to swim then. His chances came again when he got admitted into Dhaka University.
"I couldn't play much during my time in college back in 2010. I got more chances when I got admitted into university," said Rasel.
His family played a vital role in his journey and always supported him through thick and thin.
"I've always got enormous support from my family. I have three more brothers and all of them play cricket and football. So, I didn't need to worry about swimming at all."
Rasel's turning point in swimming came in 2016 when he participated in a talent hunt organised by the Bangladesh Navy and the Swimming Federation. This was the first-ever swimming talent hunt in Bangladesh. Rasel participated there from his university and was in the top 160 among thousands of swimmers.
"1100 swimmers were primarily selected and later there were only 160 from them. I was one of them."
"After the training, I played for my university swimming team and became an inter-varsity champion quite a few times. I also won places for my residing hall. Then I got the responsibility of our varsity swimming team," Rasel added.
Behind all of these successes, Rasel too has some struggles and obstacles. The financial problem, however, tops the list.
"Extreme sports require a lot of money. I have to spend a lot whenever I'm participating in a tournament. I mainly face financial problems as I have to bear them all on my own," Rasel said.
He got individual contributions from two of his close brothers, but he hopes to get more sponsors in the coming days so that he can continue the sport he loves.
Rasel has just completed his Masters from the University of Dhaka in the Department of Soil, Water & Environment. He is now in such a place where he is to take a decision of which path he will swim towards. He has his career ahead of him and he has a family to maintain. All in all, it has not been easy for him.
"It's a bit tough to continue studying and sports at the same time. It's really difficult to do politics, sports, study and maintain a family at the same time. But I try my best."
Rasel has an international competition lined up for which he has full sponsorship. The event is called 'Oceanman' and it will take place in Bali, Indonesia where swimmers from 50-60 countries participate.
It was supposed to take place in June this year but got postponed due to the sudden surge of Covid.
It will probably take place in August, according to Rasel.
Rasel will be the third Bangladeshi to compete there. He registered for the competition in 2019 but couldn't go due to visa problems.
Rasel has been helping a lot of people in swimming as a trainer individually and he wants to continue that.
One of his students crossed the Bangla channel in 2020. Three others attempted this time with him and one successfully crossed the channel.
There is a fear of water among general people, Rasel wants to remove that. He says swimming is really easy, well, easy for him to say!
"Swimming is actually not that difficult, we feel that because we are not used to swimming and we do not get proper guidelines," said Rasel.
"Swimming is actually not that difficult, we feel that because we are not used to swimming and we do not get proper guidelines."
Rasel's dream is to cross the seven toughest channels in the world including the English channel.
Rasel has already created history. Only time will tell whether he will fulfil his dream or not, but he is surely in the right direction and eager to give his best to make Bangladesh proud internationally.