On July 4th, 2018, Leah Chowdhry became one of the first, recorded, young British Asian women to swim the English Channel at 26 years old. With help from family, friends and generous donations she raised over £175,000 for the British Asian Trust. Leah completed the 30-mile swim in just under 15 hours despite obstacles like jellyfish, ship tankers and seasickness. She has previously completed the London Marathon, along with these incredible achievements, Leah is a graduate with a BSc in Childhood Studies and worked for EY and managing a children’s nursery before setting up her venture Pop Up, Party & Play.
Tell us a about yourself and what you do.
I am a Founder and CEO of an award-winning childcare company, ‘Pop Up, Party & Play’. We provide mobile childcare and in doing so help to make childcare more accessible. You can see us popping at workspaces, members’ clubs, corporate events and special events. Our company motto is ‘Discovering a bright future in every child’. I do this through both my business and my charity work. Most recently, I became the first ever British Asian woman to swim the English Channel, succeeding in raising £175,000 for charity!
What inspires you?
On my first trip to India aged just 7, I couldn’t bear to see the way children were suffering. It was especially difficult as some were even the same age as me. These children don’t get a say in their lives; they are forced to live in those horrific conditions. They had never been given a choice! It was at that moment that I decided I needed to make a difference. I started small, giving up fizzy drinks and sweets, but I managed to raise £1,000. Since then, I’ve been constantly involved in charity work. My determination to help children, particularly vulnerable children, only grows.
What books have greatly influenced your life?
There are two books which have influenced me greatly in life. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is one of them. This book has helped me understand the importance of living in the ‘now’. Our current generation seems to always be looking for the next goal or the next thing, but sometimes it can be just as important to enjoy the moment.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho has also been an influence in my life. Through the book, I have learned not to let fear get in the way of my dreams. Fear can be a barrier itself and sometimes we just need to push through.
What purchase of £100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months.
Investing in a journal, allowing me to reflect, it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. Some days I’ll have more to write, some days less, but I write in it every day. Journaling helps me understand certain events in my life and to reflect back on why and how certain things have happened. I can then think about how I might do things differently next time so that I can learn from my past experiences. Sometimes it just helps to get thoughts out of my head.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success?
A particularly difficult moment occurred during my training to swim the English Channel. It was the day before my 6-hour qualifier and I only had to get through a 3-hour swim in preparation. After getting into the water, both a mental and physical struggle followed. Not only did I spend an hour and a half battling my mind, I also had to deal with the 14-degrees water and the swell of the wave pushing me under. I could no longer cope and my coach had to pull me out. I felt like a failure and I was disappointed in myself. That evening, however, I took time to reflect on what had happened. I realised that I had completed months of training and that my body was fit and healthy enough. The only problem remaining were the thoughts in my head. I spent hours that night listening to talks on having a healthy mind. The next morning, I completed my 6-hour qualifier and I was so proud of myself. Keeping a healthy mind and thinking positively has continued to help me.
If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it—metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions—what would it say and why?
I would use one of my favourite quotes: ‘He who says he can and he who says he can’t are both usually right’ (Confucius).
Whilst training for the swim, I learnt how powerful it is to control your mind and thoughts. The quote essentially means that if we believe in ourselves, then we are more likely to succeed. 90% of success in any profession or calling is the direct result of the way we use our minds. This concept is very empowering and this is why I go out to schools to talk about controlling your mindset to empower children to achieve anything they set their mind to.
In the last 2 years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life?
Writing down my goals has greatly improved my life. Every year I write down some goals on a large piece of paper which I hang up on my bedroom wall. This means I can see it every day and it continues to drive and inspire me. I also review it every 3 months; this gives me a chance to make sure I’m heading in the right direction and adapt where goals have changed.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven student about to enter the “real world? What advice should they ignore?
For me ‘FAIL’ stands for: First Attempt In Learning. Failure should not be considered a negative concept. You shouldn’t give up but try and try again. I was inspired by the quote, ‘it isn’t about how hard you hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much can you take and keep moving forward’.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?
I find it useful to remind myself why I am doing what I’m doing. I take myself back to my first trip to India and how I felt as I saw children suffering. It helps to be reminded why I’m doing things, and this motivates me. This has helped me when I’ve felt overwhelmed running my business and especially when I was training for the swim. I would be doing hours and hours of training, physio sessions, nutritional meetings and strength training, but thinking about my ‘why’ would help me keep focused.
Tell us something that would surprise us about you?
I have decided to write a children’s book about my swim across the English Channel. I want to help inspire children to change their ‘can’t’ into a ‘can’ mindset.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome?
When training for the English Channel swim, I faced a lot of negative comments. Throughout the 18 months, I faced difficult questions from some people in my Asian community, odd stares and interrogations via social media. One of the most shocking experiences was when I was invited onto a national Asian radio station and someone commented that it was inappropriate for me to be wearing a swimsuit. This is just one example. I did not let this bring me down, and it made me more determined to complete the challenge and never allow other women to face this negative backlash when participating in sport.
What is your message to the AWMB community?
You should never be afraid to be different. If I was afraid, my business would not be the first mobile childcare available to London workspaces. I also would never have become the first British Asian woman to swim the English Channel. Although it can be very difficult at times as people can say very negative things, just remember your why and stay true to yourself. You will unleash incredible potential.