Ping Tjin has done it!
On 06 August 2005, the 26-year old did Singapore and ACS proud when he
became the first Singaporean to swim solo the 34-kilometere (21-mile)
Achieving this daunting feat in 12
hours and 24 minutes, he also helped raise funds for the Methodist
Schools’ Foundation (MSF) and Action For Aids Singapore.
His accomplishment, which sends a
message to all that Singaporeans can do great things too, was a timely
40th National Day present to Singapore.
When PJ (as
Ping Tjin is affectionately known to his friends) began his
swim, the weather appeared fine and the waters calm. Conditions took
a turn for the worse about three hours into the swim, but he battled
on through rough seas, strong winds and heavy Channel traffic the
rest of the way. According to PJ, “The
waves came crashing down on me and tossed me about like the
insignificant speck that I was. I was flipped about and the boat
went up and down so much I thought it was going to capsize. Such is
the power of mother nature as a great leveller. No matter who we are
or how great we are, we are all helpless before the great forces of
strength was drained and he was about to give up after about an hour
battling the rough seas. His support boat crew also thought that he
would throw in the towel. “To
be honest, I didn’t think I’d make it. I was fairly certain I’d just
reached a point where everything would just collapse and they’d have
to fish me out of the water”, he
confessed. However, he persevered on doggedly, a few strokes at a
time. He just kept going, and did everything he could to motivate
himself to complete the crossing. “I
thought about my family, my friends, about Singapore. I sang the
national anthem to myself, I sang my school song to myself, I sang
every single inspirational theme I could think of. I thought of my
late father and how much he sacrificed for me to get to this point.
I thought of all the people who believed in me, and all the people
who supported me. I thought of all the children who would benefit
from my swim, all the patients who would get the help they need. I
kept going, for just a few more strokes”,
As PJ approached
France, he faced another daunting challenge of swimming against the
tide, which was due to the time he had lost battling the rough seas.
Fortunately, he was strong enough to inch forward until he finally
reached French soil. As he staggered ashore, exhausted but
triumphant, he knew his dream had become a reality. The first thing
he said to the media welcoming him was something he repeated to
himself over and over again throughout his swim: “This
is for Singapore!”
PJ had a National Day surprise from Prime Minister Lee Hsien
In a letter
congratulating PJ, Mr Lee said Singaporeans rejoiced
in his achievement as they gathered to celebrate the
country’s 40th year of independence.
adventurous spirit, boldness to take on a difficult
challenge, and strength to carry it through are an
inspiration to us all.
Singapore may be
a small country but our people are capable of great
endeavours. May your success encourage many more
Singaporeans to dare to dream, and to act on those dreams
for themselves, for their families, and for Singapore.”
Mrs Pat Thum, was naturally delighted and relieved when she
received news of her son’s successful Channel swim. Though she had
no doubt that PJ would cross the Channel successfully with his
mental fortitude, she confessed that she was worried that his
physical state would be badly battered. She said, “Words
cannot describe the relief and immense pride I felt when I
received his message that he had completed the crossing in a most
incredible time and that he was still in one piece”.
Mrs Pat Thum (centre)
with NMP Ms Eunice Olsen &
Mrs Joni Ong (MSF Chairman) at the COMcurrentSWIM
late husband and I believe that our most important role as parents
was to build a strong foundation for our two sons. We shared the
strong conviction that this can only be achieved through
competitive sports as it imbues in them character building,
discipline, commitment and a ‘never say die’ attitude. It is only
after they have experienced the roller coaster ride of an
athlete’s life and learnt to overcome defeat that we will have the
assurance that they can walk the path of life with confidence and
mental strength”, Mrs Thum
Singapore's President S. R. Nathan also sent his
In a note to PJ,
President Nathan said that Thum's swimming
achievement is a fitting one to mark the nation's 40th
birthday celebrations and that his perseverance,
determination and fortitude will give encouragement to all
34-kilometre (21-mile) English Channel is perhaps one of the most
physical challenges on earth, considering that in the 130 years of
Cross-English Channel swimming, just 764 people have successfully
made the swim across, whereas more than 1,200 have climbed Mt
Everest since Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund
Hillary made it to the top 52 years ago. But this did not deter
PJ, who believes that anyone
anywhere can do great things if you put your mind to it.
reckons that his pursuit to swim across the English Channel is a
foolish but modest dream. It was foolish because it seemed so
impossible to achieve, and yet modest because it was a simple,
straightforward, uncomplicated goal with clear requirements and a
straight path to the finish. It was also foolish because it was
utterly unnecessary, its only virtue being the challenge, and yet
modest because it paled in comparison with the challenges people
face everyday in life. “What
I did is far smaller in consequence than the challenges people
face daily, like working to feed their families, getting married,
having children, and saving lives. We all do great things on a
daily basis, and it is these things we do that define who we are
and how great we are. In short, greatness is within us all”,
hope my Channel swim will serve to inspire people to greatness,
but I also hope they do not merely define greatness as limited to
a grand gesture like swimming the English Channel. Greatness is
what you want it to be. Dream your own dreams and follow them.
Whatever your dream, no matter how foolish, no matter how modest,
I hope you will pursue it to the very end, and I know you too will
find it as gratifying as I did”.
PJ Breaks World Record!
Whilst preparing for his Cross English-Channel swim, PJ set
a new world record when he swam around the Rock of Gibraltar
in 2 hours 52 minutes!
Swimming solo in a race against an eight-man Gibraltar
Amateur Swimming Association relay team and a 12-person
Oxford University Swimming Club team (which didn’t seem
fair!), PJ nevertheless single-handedly beat all his
PJ and his
canoeist Norman Garcia who led
him in his swim around the Rock of Gibraltar
PJ also took part in
another Cross-English Channel Relay Charity Swim on 28 July.
Despite the big swells, choppy seas and heavy rain, he
helped the 3-man team to complete the crossing under 12
hours. The swim was fun, but it was not without some drama.
Apart from suffering seasickness due to the rolling seas, he
almost freaked out when he swam over a massive jellyfish,
and got stuck in a huge clump of seaweed.
Channel Swim Trivia
First attempt to cross the English Channel
was in 1872 by J. B. Johnson; he gave up after 63 minutes.
First man to cross:
Captain Matthew Webb on 24 August 1875; he took 21 hours and
45 minutes. Since then, the total
number of ratified swims up to 2004 was 948 successful
crossings by 675 people (456 by men and 214 by women), 25
two-way crossings (9 by men and 7 by women), and 3 three-way
crossings (2 by men and 1 by a woman).
First woman to cross:
American Gertrude Ederle in 1926; she
did it in 14 hours 39 minutes. Gertrude died at a ripe old
age of 98 in December 2003.
First grandmother to cross:
50 year-old Betty Cohn in 1951.
Oldest woman to cross:
American Carol Sing (aged 57) in 1999; she achieved this
feat in 12 hours 32 minutes.
Oldest male to cross:
American George Brunstad in August 2004; he was 70 years and
4 days old and he took 15 hours 59 minutes for the crossing.
George is the uncle of Hollywood star Matt Damon.
Youngest person to cross:
Thomas Gregory, aged 11 years 11 months, in 1988; he did it
in 11 hours 54 minutes.
First man to swim in both
directions: E. H.
Temme in 1927; he later became the first to repeat that
First man to swim both ways non-stop:
Argentina’s Antonia Abertondo in 1961; he made it in 43
hours 5 minutes.
First man to swim non-stop
Jon Erkson in 1981.
First successful crossing by a legless person:
Poland’s Lucy Krajewska in 1990.
First person to die attempting
to swim the Channel:
Ted May, who drowned during an unsupervised crossing. So
far, several people have died from extreme hypothermia and
heart attacks. The most recent was in 2001 when Swiss Ueli
Staub died after taking caffeine pills as a stimulant and
suffering a heart attack.
Fastest time: 7
hours 3 minutes by German Christof Wandratsch on 02 August
2005. He beat the previous record of 7 hours 17 minutes by
American Chad Hundeby in 1994 by 14 minutes.
Slowest time: 26
hours 50 minutes by American Henry Sullivan in 1923
Shortest attempt: In
1952, Swiss Bruno Tajana gave up after 100 yards!
Most number of unsuccessful attempts:
22 times by Jabez Wolffe from 1906 to 1913; he failed by
less than a mile on three occasions and less than a hundred
yards in 1911!
Person with the most individual
Streeter, MBE, holds the record for 43 crossings, which
includes one 3-way and three 2-way swims.