Retiree, 60, aims to master English Channel as Singapore team swim for history

The English Channel stretches from the south of England to the north of France, with a straight-line distance of about 34km.

Kolette Lim

Kolette Lim

The Straits Times


(From left) Alvin Tam, Mark Tan, Lim Chee Kiong and Ng Chee Soon in Hong Kong for a practice swim. PHOTO: COURTESY OF NG CHEE SOON

April 17, 2023

SINGAPORE – At 60, Ng Chee Soon keeps fit and healthy by swimming and playing football every week.

As a former triathlete, exercise is a big part of the retiree’s life.

All the time spent on the pitch and in the pool, however, cannot compare to his biggest challenge – Ng will be attempting to swim across the English Channel as part of a four-man relay team in July.

The other swimmers are Lim Chee Kiong, 54; Mark Tan, 45; and Alvin Tam, 41. All four are members of the Masters Swim Training programme at the Singapore Swimming Club.

While former national swimmer Tan and Tam, a swim coach, agreed to join the relay team immediately when Lim first broached the idea, Ng initially declined as he felt the feat was “insurmountable”.

Ng, a former managing director of an online market platform, said: “It was not something I imagined I could achieve. It was just a totally insurmountable challenge for me. I had many concerns such as the cold, sharks and family concerns.

“But training together builds confidence and camaraderie. As we’re watching each other’s backs at the same time, I feel that we can achieve more doing things as a team.

“It is a pretty amazing feat to check this item off my bucket list.”

The English Channel stretches from the south of England to the north of France, with a straight-line distance of about 34km.

The swim is popular with the adventurous and there are several rules to follow for it to be official – one is not allowed to have any kind of artificial aid and can only use goggles, a cap, nose clip, earplugs and wear a sleeveless and legless swimsuit. The swimmer is also not allowed to touch another person and food is passed by a pole from the escort boat.

If they succeed, the quartet, who have a combined age of 200, will be the first relay team from Singapore to achieve this feat.

Ng will also be the oldest Singaporean to do so. Last September, Li Ling Yung-Hryniewiecki became the first Singaporean woman to complete the swim.

Li Ling Yung-Hryniewiecki became the first Singaporean woman to complete the swim across the English Channel last September. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF LI LING YUNG-HRYNIEWIECKI

They will make their attempt during the July 19 to 22 window, depending on weather and tidal conditions. The swim is expected to take between 12 and 15 hours.

Each member will swim for an hour while the others remain on the boat, repeating the sequence until they reach Cap Gris-Nez, the closest point in France from England.

The chilly water temperature of 15 to 17 deg C would pose the biggest challenge as they are used to Singapore’s tropical weather, said Lim.

They will swim in trunks as they are not allowed to use wetsuits to alleviate the cold.

Lim, a banker, added: “In open water, you have to come up higher to breathe because of the waves and choppy conditions, unlike in the pool where it is consistent.

“There might be times when we’re kicking and kicking but barely move forward because we are swimming against the current.”

To prepare for the feat, each of them clock about six kilometres weekly and they train together at Sentosa once a week to familiarise themselves with open water conditions. They are also taking long ice baths and plan to put on 5kg of body fat to help cope with the cold.

To simulate the English Channel swim, they made a training trip to Hong Kong, where the temperature of the sea waters was similar to the conditions.

Ng and Tam also participated in an open water race in Malaysia in March, each swimming 6.5km from Kapas Island to Marang in Terengganu.

The quartet aim to raise $50,000 for ART:DIS, a charitable organisation that creates learning and livelihood opportunities for people with disabilities.

Lim said: “We will take about 12 hours to finish the swim, but these children face difficulties every single moment. Now that there’s a greater meaning attached, we shouldn’t fail. We’re going to try like crazy to succeed and we are all really excited.”

(From left) Alvin Tam, 41, Mark Tan, 45, Ng Chee Soon, 60 and Lim Chee Kiong, 54, at Singapore Swimming Club, where they are members of the Masters Swim Training programme. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

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