A "THUMPING" Feat by

Thum 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) English Channel!

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 nature”.

PJ’s 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”, PJ elaborated.

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 Loong

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.

“Your 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.”

PJ’s mother, 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

My 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 added. 

Singapore's President S. R. Nathan also sent his congratulations!

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 Singaporeans.

Swimming the 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.

PJ 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”, PJ explained.

I 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 opponents.  

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.

Cross-English 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 feat.

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 3-ways:  American 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 crossings: Alison Streeter, MBE, holds the record for 43 crossings, which includes one 3-way and three 2-way swims.


  Back to contents