Speaking about Clean Cross Swim, a 2014 event that raised funds for a marine anti-pollution campaign, long-distance swimmer Simon Holliday still feels a quiver of excitement.
That is not surprising given the record that Holliday set as he swam from Hong Kong to Macau in just a little over 10 hours and 20 minutes.
Holliday, a Brit who was born in a small village by the sea, aspired to be a footballer when he was a child. But he fell in love with triathlon races as he grew older, and is now devoted to swimming.
It is a wondrous feeling when you manage to hold a steady pace and propel forward along with the ocean current, he says.
Ten-plus-hour-long journeys are considered by swimmers as ultimate tests of human endurance.
Staying in the waters for too long, a person would be engulfed by discomfort and anxiety. Holliday says this is the reason why he prefers racing along with other competitors rather than swim solo.
His strategy to cope with a long race is to break the distance mentally into many short parts and meeting various goals along the way.
Prior to the 35-kilometer crossing between Hong Kong and Macau, Holliday made the English Channel crossing in 15 hours and 2 minutes in 2011.
However, that took him more than two years of preparation. First he put on more than a quarter of body weight so that he had a layer of body fat thick enough to shield him from the freezing cold water.
Swimming continuously for 15 hours can become absolutely boring. From time to time Holliday had to put off an urge to take breaks as the swim involved a lot of hardship.
The tides were great obstacles as they kept pushing him off the right track during the last 750 meters of the journey.
Unlike a marathon, in which you can stop and walk when you are too tired, you just can’t leave the ocean during a swimming event. All you can do is to keep swimming toward the goal, though there is constant risk of failure, Holliday recalls.
Anyway, he made it through successfully.
But when Holliday was invited by Doug Woodring from the Ocean Recovery Alliance — a Hong Kong charity group — for a fund-raising challenge in 2014, he wasn’t initially sure about joining the race.
That was because it had been three years since he last participated in such a long-distance event. And there was also another problem: Holliday was not familiar with the waters along the route.
However, since it was a charity call, the Briton eventually put aside his doubts and took the plunge.
Holliday says he feared jellyfish and shark attacks on the route, but what he actually saw was a group of curious Chinese white dolphins as they accompanied him for over an hour during the swim.
He learned to trust his team fully during the mission and managed to complete the 35-kilometer swim across the Pearl River Delta in 10 hours, 20 minutes and 30 seconds.
The journey, which began from Peaked Hill (Kai Yet Kok) in Hong Kong and ended at Hac Sa Beach in Macau, saw Holliday set a new best time for the crossing, beating a record held by Chinese marathon swimmer Zhang Jian by about 10 minutes.
The event saw more than HK$235,000 raised for the “Grate Art” project that aimed to raise awareness, through unique public art installations, about ocean protection.
Following his passion, Holliday has himself founded a charity group. The group, which goes by the name Splash, conducts free learn-to-swim and water safety courses for foreign domestic helpers and children from low-income families who may not have access or financial resources for swim lessons.
Swimming can bring people closer, the Hong Kong-based Briton says, adding that he derives immense satisfaction if he is able to help people achieve something they couldn’t do before.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 14.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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