Happenings, News

Thumbs up to PJ for conquering English Channel

Methodist Schools’ Foundation officials, ‘Community Swim’ supporters share joy

TWENTY-FIVE-YEAR-OLD Thum Ping Tjin has become the first Singaporean to swim across the English Channel, and the first group of fellow Singaporeans who were just as elated as he was were his sponsors, officials of the Methodist Schools’ Foundation, and his supporters who took part in a “Community Swim” four days before he achieved his feat.

At around 4.45 am on Aug 7, 2005 Ping Tjin, or PJ, as he is known to many, dimly discerned sand through the water and his fingers hit the soft beach at Câp Gris Nez, France. He was then aware that he had conquered the “Everest of swimming” – the English Channel, a distance of 35km.

It had taken him 12 hrs, 24 mins and 12 secs of sheer agony and determination, backed by what he told himself, over and over, throughout his swim: “This is for Singapore” – which he repeated for the waiting media.

He is the first Singaporean to accomplish this feat, symbolically enough, two days before National Day 2005 – Singapore’s 40th.

The Prime Minister praised him for pressing on through bad weather and difficult conditions, showing fortitude and resolve. In his letter of congratulations, Mr Lee Hsien Loong said that PJ’s adventurous spirit, boldness to take on a difficult challenge, and strength to carry it through, were an inspiration to Singapore.

Bishop Dr Robert Solomon also sent a congratulatory letter to PJ. He wrote: “I am delighted that you successfully swam across the English Channel recently and made history for our nation and the Methodist family in Singapore.

“Your determination and courage are greatly appreciated by so many here and serve as an inspiring model for both young and old. On behalf of The Methodist Church in Singapore, I would like to convey my warm congratulations to you. ”

An old boy of Anglo-Chinese School, an Olympian, and now a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, PJ had to postpone the attempt twice because of bad weather.

But since it was impossible to postpone the Community Swim at the Farrer Park Swimming Complex on Aug 3, it took place as scheduled.

The event attracted 309 swimmers from Methodist schools and churches, as well as from Balestier and Bendemeer Secondary Schools, an excellent community effort as a concurrent fundraiser for the Methodist Schools Foundation (MSF) and a morale booster for PJ. It was organised by the Methodist schools and sponsored by the MSF.

The Community Swim epitomises the Methodist spirit of the Methodist family. Methodist pastors, church members, school principals, teachers, students and alumni members turned up at the swimming complex, all excited that they were part of the swim organised in support of PJ’s swim across the English Channel.

Among those on the starting blocks were MP Ong Kian Min, an ACS alumnus; the Rev Dr Norman Wong, Director of Youth Ministries (TRAC) and Director, Ministry in Schools; the Rev Dr John Barrett, Principal of ACS (International); Mr Peter Tan, Principal of ACS (Junior); Olympian and ACS alumnus Ang Peng Siong; and Paralympian medallist Theresa Goh.

Said Mrs Joni Ong, Chairman of the MSF: “We want to encourage PJ and show him our full support by proceeding with this Community Swim. We are telling him, ‘Singapore is behind your effort … ’ The Community Swim started at 3.27 pm and ended at 10.29 pm – 7 hours and 2 mins.

Although PJ had been training in England for around two months, and bulking up with enough body fat to withstand the bone-numbing waters (12C – 17C) of the English Channel from which four had died from hypothermia and heart attacks, he was not unprepared for the awful change in weather conditions he encountered after the first three hours. His thoughts provide food for thought:

“It actually started out really well. I had been confident of swimming it in under10 hours. In retrospect, I was a little overconfident. I was easily holding my10-hour pace until we unexpectedly hit some extremely rough weather about three hours in. 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.

“After battling this rough water for about an hour, I was exhausted and ready to give up. I paused for a moment, treading water and looking at the boat, and I decided to just swim a few strokes more – I had to if I wanted to reach the boat, anyway. I decided that I’d swim the few strokes, and then I’d think again about giving up. After those few strokes, I decided to swim a few more strokes. And then a few more. And a few more. Over the next eight hours, I kept myself going by just swimming a few more strokes at a time.

“This leads me to observe another great force: the human spirit. Once mother nature had stripped me bare of pride and pretension, all I had left was my determination and will to carry on and prevail. I realised I could not defeat the terrible force of nature, only hold on and keep slowly moving forward until such a time as the fickle and capricious weather left me alone. Eventually the water improved and I was able to slowly and exhaustedly carry on. Thus is the second lesson of my crossing: that the human spirit in its purest and humblest form is equal to anything in this world.

“On this journey I had a lot of help. I want to thank my family and my friends for their unwavering support; my sponsors, the Methodist Schools’ Foundation, for being so committed to helping me achieve this dream. Lastly, I must thank God for that little push He gave me right at the end.”

Methodist pastors, principals and students among 309 in ‘Community Swim’ to raise funds and lend support to PJ


‘I decided that I’d swim the few strokes, and then I’d think again about giving up. After those few strokes, I decided to swim a few more strokes. And then a few more. And a few more. Over the next eight hours, I kept myself going by just swimming a few more strokes at a time … ’