The Singapore Cross-English Channel Charity Swim
One Singaporean and his foolish yet modest dream: to swim solo across the English Channel.

sponsored by The Methodist Schools Foundation
6 August 2005 : Dover, England to Calais, France

In The Press

The Straits Times, 26 December 2004:

Two to swim English Channel
Singaporean duo set for separate solo attempts from England to France next August

By Jeremy Au Yong

TWO adventurers are vying to be the first Singaporean to swim solo across the English Channel.

Former national swimmer Thum Ping Tjin, 25, and adventurer Khoo Swee Chiow, 40, have booked slots with the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation to swim from England to France in August next year.

Mr Thum, who is reading modern history and politics at Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship, was voted Sportsboy of the Year in 1996 and swam for Singapore in the Atlanta Olympics that year.

He is set to swim during the Aug 11 to 18 neap tide. A neap tide, which happens twice a month, is the lowest level of a high tide and is the best time for the swim as the waters are less choppy.

Mr Khoo is scheduled for the next neap tide from Aug 26 to Sept 4.

Earlier this month, he became the second person in history to complete a solo swim of the Malacca Strait. He has also climbed Mount Everest and trekked to both Poles.

But they could do the swim before their booked dates, provided boat pilots are available.

Anyone who wants to swim the Channel has to book an escort boat and register with either the federation or the Channel Swimming Association.

The 33km swim from Shakespeare Beach in Dover, England, to Cap Gris Nez near Calais, France, is thought by many long-distance swimmers to be one of the most challenging around.

Some 760 swimmers have completed the feat since 1875. By comparison, more than 1,200 people have scaled Mount Everest.

Mr Thum is confident he can make it. He said: 'I want to set an example for other Singaporeans to follow, to show that people born and bred in Singapore can achieve something great.'

He now trains every morning for two hours at a pool in Toa Payoh, and plans to go to England by July to train in the cold water.

When contacted, Mr Khoo said his plans were in the initial stages, and declined to comment further. However, he has spoken about the swim and asked for advice on an online forum for Channel swimmers.

Mr Khoo has also said he is thinking of going to Australia in May or June next year to train in the cold waters there, and has asked about swimming the Cook Strait in New Zealand.

The two certainly have their work cut out for them. For starters, the water is bitingly cold.

The swimming season runs from mid-summer to mid-autumn - between July and September - but water temperature in the Channel averages 15 deg C. Poor weather and hypothermia are common reasons for failure, and cases of jellyfish stings have also been reported.

Four people have died attempting the swim, from extreme hypothermia and heart attacks.

Mr Michael Oram, the honorary secretary of the federation, has escorted more than 350 solo attempts since 1982.

He said: 'The swim is every bit mental as well as very physical, and the swimmer must be both mentally and physically attuned.

'The only real way to achieve success is to start with the idea that nothing else matters except arriving on the other side.'

The Straits Times, 26 January 2005:

Varsity relay prompts Channel solo bid
by Benjamin Ho

MR THUM Ping Tjin took a bow from the national swimming team in 2002, but come August he will be diving into the water again in his attempt to be the first Singaporean to swim across the English Channel.

Mr Thum, who was voted Sportsboy of the Year in 1996 after swimming for Singapore in the Atlanta Olympic Games, studied modern history and politics at Oxford University from 2002 to last year on a prestigious Rhodes scholarship.

The idea to take on the 34km solo swim from Dover in England to Cap Griz Nez in France occurred to him when he took part in a relay swim across the Channel in the inter-varsity games between Oxford and Cambridge universities.

'Both sets of teams raced one another across the Channel and each one of us had to swim for at least an hour at a time. The swim was very painful. It was the closest I'd ever come to dying!' he recalled.

This time though, he estimates that he will have to swim continuously for at least 12 hours, almost four times longer than he has ever done before.

Mr Thum, who is now training for about two hours a day at the Singapore Swimming Association's centre of excellence in Toa Payoh, plans to go to England in June to acclimatise to the weather and water conditions.

According to Mr Thum, who is currently teaching at ACS (International), 760 people have completed the feat since it was first achieved in 1875.

A former student of Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), which is funded by the Methodist Schools' Foundation, he hopes his swim will raise at least $500,000 for the 15 Methodist schools in Singapore.

'I want to set an example for youths and to inspire them to challenge themselves to do great things for themselves and for Singapore,' he said.

Channel News Asia/News 5 Tonight, 30 May 2005

Two Singaporeans to attempt English Channel swim in August
By Dominique Loh, Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE : Two Singaporeans will attempt to swim across the waters of the English Channel in August.

Former national swimmer Thum Ping Tjin and adventurer Khoo Swee Chiow are now in the final stages of their preparation.

Ping Tjin takes the plunge into any swimming pool like fish to water, but the challenge ahead is more than just a few laps - try 34 kilometres!

His long-distance training started in December, swimming at least two hours each time, six days a week.

Swee Chiow has a similiar training programme, but he only learned to swim freestyle a year ago.

"I swam the Singapore Strait last year, and the Malacca Strait, which is a whooping 40 over kilometres, that was part of the preparation for the channel...I haven't done it before, so why not? Swimming the English Channel is so called the Everest of swimming," he said.

Ping Tjin said: "It's really rare, when you think of Mount Everest, first climbed in 1953, and since then 1,500 or 1,600 people have climbed it. In twice that time, less than half that number have swum the Channel."

His window of opportunity will start on the week of August 11.

Two weeks later, it will be Swee Chiow's turn.

The water temperature in a pool in Singapore is about 27 or 28 degree Celsius.

Even with a full wet suit on, it can be freezing in water temperatures of about 20 degrees.

And just how cold will the water be in the English Channel?

Ping Tjin said: "The cold water temperature is between 14 to 16 degree Celsius towards the end of the summer, it warms up to high of 17 but never higher than that."

Swee Chiow said: "So that is a challenge for is going to be one cold swim."

Besides a swimming cap, this is as much both men are allowed to wear during the Channel crossing.

To acclimatise themselves, cold water training for Ping Tjin will start this weekend in England, while Swee Chiow heads for Perth next month. - CNA

Xinhua News Agency, 30 May 2005:

2 Singapore swimmers to challenge English Channel in Aug. 2005-05-30 20:12:40

    SINGAPORE, May 30 (Xinhuanet) -- Two Singaporeans have been preparing for the challenge of swimming across the English Channel in August this year, according to Channel News Asia report on Monday.

    Thum Ping Tjin, a former national swimmer, will try his luck on Aug. 11, while adventurer Khoo Swee Chiow, who learned freestyle swimming just a year ago, plans to challenge the Everest of swimming two weeks after Thum.

    Thum and Khoo, who are currently engaged in their long-distancetraining, will go to England and Australia's Perth respectively for cold water training next month.

    They are supposed to swim in cold, choppy waters of no more than 17 degree Celsius to cross the narrowest point of the channel,measuring 34 kilometers from Dover in the United Kingdom to Cape Gris-Nez in France. Enditem

Channel News Asia/News 5 Tonight, 1 August 2005:

S'porean Thum Ping Tjin to attempt English Channel swim on Wednesday
By Patwant Singh, Channel NewsAsia

The first Singaporean to attempt to swim across the English Channel is going to do it one week ahead of schedule.

Former National swimmer Thum Ping Tjin has just told our reporter that he had received the go-ahead to start his attempt on Wednesday.

He is currently training in England for the swim which will last some 11 to 13 hours.

Since early June, Ping Tjin has been training in the cold waters of the English Channel in the hope of making history when he swims across the 34-kilometre Channel.

Besides the distance, the frigid waters is another challenge.

Ping Tjin said: "The water was 12 degrees Celsius when I first started and it was absolutely freezing and I barely swam an hour, my first time out. Somehow each time I got in I manage to survive a little longer and in the beginning of July, I made my qualifying swim of six hours."

While his attempt was scheduled to be around the 11th to the 18th of August, Ping Tjin got the go ahead to take the plunge this coming Wednesday.

And he should be on course for his record barring any unforeseen circumstances or bad weather.

He said: "It's an opportunity and you just have to take the good weather when it comes. I was lucky that my pilot has an extra spot available on this side and the weather is going to be good next week, so he offered it to me."

Ping Tjin's supporters will be "joining" him from Singapore by swimming at Farrer Park pool, throughout the length of his channel crossing.

Another Singaporean, adventurer Khoo Swee Chiow too will be attempting a similar record.

Having trained in Perth, Khoo leaves for England on National Day, and is expected to swim in late August or September. - CNA /ch

Channel News Asia/News 5 Tonight, 3 August 2005:

S'porean Thum Ping Tjin postpones swim across English Channel
By Patwant Singh, Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE : Thum Ping Tjin was to have taken to the waters on Wednesday afternoon in his pursuit to become the first Singaporean to swim across the English Channel, but bad weather forced the former national swimmer to postpone his plans.

Some Singaporeans, however, went ahead with their own swim in support of Thum.

Just 24 hours before Ping Tjin was scheduled to swim across the English Channel, he was told that weather and tide conditions were not conducive.

His next attempt is to be made on Friday but even that's not confirmed yet.

"The only time I'm completely sure I'm going to do the swim is when I actually start. I know of people who have gone all the way to the beach, ready to start. But it was called off. You never really know, that is the nature of channel swimming," said Thum.

Ping Tjin's supporters, who were going to swim concurrently with Ping Tjin, are going ahead with their swim at Farrer Park.

Popular personalities like Ang Peng Siong and NMP Eunice Olsen, who remained on dry land, were there to lend their support to Ping Tjin.

Also showing up, but not taking to the water was Sports Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishanan.

"I'm glad to see so many young kids and not-so-young kids like us, fellow Singaporeans out here to support him as he pursues his dream. It's a great day and we all look forward to seeing him achieve that," said the Sports Minister.

About 300 people including students from various schools are swimming to show their support for Ping Tjin.

- CNA /ls

The Straits Times, 4 August 2004:

Supporters unfazed

Teacher Thum Ping Tjin's planned attempt to become the first Singaporean to swim solo across the English Channel yesterday was postponed until tomorrow due to bad weather.

But that did not stop about 300 supporters from taking turns to plunge into Farrer Park Swimming Complex yesterday to cheer on the 26-year-old Rhodes scholar and former national swimmer.

Organised by the Methodist Schools' Foundation, the mass swim was supposed to take place at the same time as Mr Thum's Channel crossing and last up to 12 hours - the time he is expected to take to complete the 32km swim from Dover in England to Calais in France.

The event here took place as planned, but was shortened to seven hours and three minutes, the record time taken to swim across the Channel.

Tampines GRC MP Ong Kian Min, former national swimmer Ang Peng Siong and paralympic swimmer Theresa Goh were among those who joined the swim.

Speaking from England, Mr Thum called the support 'fantastic' and was upbeat despite the delay to his attempt.

'That's the nature of it. You really have to be patient and wait for the right conditions to come.

'I'm pretty confident and I believe I can do it,' he said.

Channel News Asia/News 5 Tonight, 5 August 2005:

Thum again postpones swim across English Channel
By Patwant Singh, Channel NewsAsia

Once again, Singaporean PJ Thum has postponed his attempt to swim across the English Channel.

Bad weather is delaying the former national swimmer from becoming the first Singaporean to do so.

Thum was slated to take the plunge on Wednesday, but the elements were not on his side.

It was pushed to Friday but the weather, in fact, got worse.

He is now planning to do it on Saturday, provided the weather holds up.

Another Singaporean, adventurer Khoo Swee Chiow is also attempting the swim.

He is expected to leave Singapore on National Day and take to the waters in late August or September. - CNA/ir

Channel News Asia/News 5 Tonight, 6 August 2005:

Singaporean Thum begins bid to swim across English Channel
By Catherine Drew, Channel NewsAsia's UK correspondent

DOVER, ENGLAND: Thum Ping Tjin has begun his attempt to be the first Singaporean to swim from England to France.

The 25-year-old student began his marathon swim at about 4pm Singapore time.

His attempt to swim across the English Channel had been postponed several times because of bad weather.

The 35-kilometre swim across cold and choppy waters is expected to take Thum about 12 hours.

PJ, as he's known to his friends, has represented Singapore in swimming at every level, including the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

The Rhodes scholar, who is studying at Oxford, had been training for the past year.

"Excited, tense and nervous all at the same time, it's a whole range of emotions going through my mind, but mainly impatient to go, because I've been training for this for so long. I feel ready to go and I really want to do this," PJ told Channel NewsAsia's Catherine Drew, who is on a boat following the swim.

He trained in Dover on the southeast coast of England, to get acclimatised to the water which is a chilly 14-18 degrees Celsius.

The cold isn't the only challenge of a cross-channel swim.

The swimmer is also likely to meet stinging jellyfish during the 35-kilometre crossing and strong tides that may add a third again to the distance that must be swum.

Then there is the danger from other traffic, the English Channel being one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

But PJ has some experience of this, having twice taken part in a cross- channel relay race for Oxford University.

He said: "That's part of the nature of the challenge of the channel, its unpredictability, and that's one of the reasons why it's so tough to get across. But having done what I've done - I've done two relays across in the past, and I've trained in the harbour here for two months now and I've gotten as much advice as I can from experienced swimmers and I've tried to cover every angle - I think I'm as well prepared as I can be."

There have been around 950 successful crossings by nearly 700 people, around half the number that have climbed Mount Everest.

Many familiar with what lies ahead say it's not just physically, but mentally challenging as well.

However PJ's supporters say they're confident he can do it.

Nick Thomas, chairman of Oxford Alumni Association, said: "There are challenges. I think he's right up for it. We can never tell on channel swims, lot's of hazards can kick in. There are things that the pilot is on the lookout for, he steers a very careful course, the coastguard people have alerted all the ships, so it's made as safe as possible for the swimmer who is left to concentrate on the main task to get to France."

PJ has some competition. Singaporean adventurer Khoo Swee Chiow also hopes to swim the channel this August.

So is it important that PJ is first?

PJ said: "There are 700 people in the world who have done this before me. And, you know, being the first from Singapore is good. But, I'm still 700th in the world. What is that? It's more important that I actually do it and make it across. That's the real challenge."

Now all eyes are on PJ to see if he can do it. If he does, he'll be raising money for two Singapore charities, The Methodist Schools Foundation and Action for Aids Singapore. - CNA/ir

Channel News Asia/News 5 Tonight, 7 August 2005:

Student becomes first Singaporean to swim across English Channel

A 26-year-old student has become the first Singaporean to swim across the English Channel, completing the feat in 12 hours and 24 minutes.

Thum Ping Tjin, who is currently studying at Oxford University in England, faced unexpected rough seas for the swim, which made it an even bigger challenge.

Only around seven hundred people have made successful crossings, roughly half the number that have climbed Mount Everest.

PJ, as he is known to his friends, was drained but ecstatic as he reached the shore in France.

He said: "I did this for Singapore."

This is a sentiment that he has spoken about in an interview ahead of the swim.

He said: "Would be an example for all Singaporeans especially in our 40th year and right around National Day. Be an example and show Singaporeans that we can do great things too."

It had been an incredibly long day, with this happy outcome far from assured.

The adventure began in the early morning as PJ and his team met with the captain and crew that would guide him across to France.

PJ started the race from Shakespeare's Beach in Dover, as the rules proscribe, where some friends came to wave him off.

At that point, weather conditions appeared good and the first three hours of the swim went smoothly.

He was fed a glucose drink every hour or so, and an independent monitor for the Channel Swimming Association made sure the rules were obeyed.

The swimmer is not allowed to touch the boat, even accidental contact would disqualify him.

But later as PJ swam further in the Channel, weather conditions began to change, with the waters becoming very rough.

This was exacerbated by the large ships that pass through this busy shipping lane.

This made made life on board the boat unpleasant for his support team.

But it was more of a challenge for PJ who had to negotiate the rough waves, and at this point, he was suffering cramps in his legs.

His support team feared that he may be forced to give up the challenge.

But he did not, he fought the high waves for another 8 hours, the sea only calming as he neared the French coast.

His support boat was forced to stay some distance from the shore, so he was guided in to the final part by dinghy.

On reaching the shore, he was able to pose with his sponsors flag, the Methodist School Foundation for some photos.

PJ swim is raising money for the Foundation as well as Action for Aids Singapore.

And it is the fulfilment of a personal dream of this long distance swimmer.

PJ said: "Every Singaporean got a dream. I had a dream and I followed it all the way here."

After the long swim, PJ was escorted back to his support boat by dinghy, for the ride back to England.

Singapore's President S.R Nathan has congratulated the swimmer on his successful swim across the English Channel.

In a note to Mr Thum, the President said Thum's swimming achievement is a fitting one to mark the nation's 40th birthday celebrations.

Mr Nathan said Mr Thum's perseverance, determination and fortitude will give encouragement to all Singaporeans.

The Straits Times, 8 August 2005:

Thum's Up!
Singaporean swims across English Channel in 12 hours, 24 minutes

By Neo Hui Min, Straits Times Europe Bureau

DOVER, ENGLAND - FORMER national swimmer Thum Ping Tjin became the first Singaporean to swim the English Channel on Saturday.

The gruelling 35km swim began at 8.30am from Dover, England, and ended 12 hours, 24 minutes and 7 seconds later at Cap Gris Nez, France.

With his voice hoarse from swallowing 'too much sea water', Mr Thum told The Straits Times: 'I learnt that you can get very sick from being in the water.'

Not only did he vomit several times, for most of the swim he was shivering, and sometimes fighting cramps.

He lost all sense of balance back onshore and walked with his back bent as it was too painful to straighten up.

The swim began well, but hit unexpected bad weather about four hours later. The waves came up to 1.5m, throwing Mr Thum around 'like a puppet'.

Although there was a boat with a crew watching over him, he was not allowed to hang on during that patch, as a channel swimmer is not allowed to touch the boat. Mr Nick Thomas, who was on the boat, said the pilot noted that many would have given up in such circumstances.

'It was really up to the resolve of the individual swimmer, and PJ hung on,' he said.

Mr Thum admitted that there was 'no point during the swim' when he did not think of giving up. But he was driven on by the thought that he could not let his friends, family and Singaporeans down.

'I told myself, just a little bit more, then we'll see how. Then a little bit more... and finally there was the shore,' said the 26-year-old.

He decided on the swim as it is 'one of the greatest human challenges'. But he also hopes to raise money for Action for Aids and sponsor Methodist Schools Foundation.

And he added: 'Singapore is 40 this year, you can't say she's young anymore. Someone's got to step up and say this is who we are - Singapore is a people who are brave and who are willing to go out into the world and be looked at by others as equals,' he said.

But he risked death to do so - the water is numbingly cold at between 12 deg C and 17 deg C. Four have died from hypothermia and heart attacks while attempting the swim. Just 764 people have completed the swim since 1875, compared to 1,200 who have scaled Everest.

To gain body fat to insulate him in the cold, he had been having double portions at every meal, and said he had to loosen his belt by two notches.

Despite that, a physiotherapist who has treated many channel swimmers told him that he is one of the thinnest.


The Straits Times, 9 August 2005:

President lauds Channel swimmer

PRESIDENT S R Nathan yesterday congratulated former national swimmer Thum Ping Tjin on being the first Singaporean to swim across the English Channel.

Mr Thum completed the 35km swim from Dover, England to Cap Gris Nez, France in 12 hours, 24 minutes and 7 seconds on Saturday.

Said Mr Nathan in his note: 'As we celebrate Singapore's 40th National Day, your outstanding achievement of swimming across the English Channel is a fitting achievement to mark the occasion.

'Your perseverance, determination and fortitude in what you achieved will give encouragement to all Singaporeans, young and old to persevere, whatever the odds,' he said.

Mr Nathan also praised Mr Thum's intention of raising money for Action for Aids and the Methodist Schools Foundation through this swim.

'I deeply appreciate your concern and compassion for your fellow human beings, and your efforts to live up to your reputation as a Rhodes Scholar.

'You have made Singapore proud. I wish you success in your future endeavours. I am sure you will continue to strive to achieve many more successes.'

Channel News Asia/News 5 Tonight, 9 August 2005:

PM Lee congratulates Thum for English Channel swim

SINGAPORE : Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has congratulated student Thum Ping Tjin for being the first Singaporean to swim the English Channel.

Expressing Singapore's pride for Mr Thum's achievement, Mr Lee said the 25-year-old student has conquered the "Everest of swimming", braving 35 kilometres of cold waters for more than 12 hours.

The Prime Minister praised Mr Thum for pressing on through bad weather and difficult conditions, showing fortitude and resolve.

He added that Mr Thum's adventurous spirit, boldness to take on a difficult challenge, and strength to carry it through are an inspiration to all Singaporeans.

Mr Lee says Singapore may be a small country, but its people are capable of great endeavours.

And he hopes that Mr Thum's success will encourage many more Singa¬poreans to dare to dream, and to act on those dreams - for themselves, their families, and Singapore. - CNA /ct

The Straits Times, 10 August 2005:

Swimmer gets letter from PM Lee for channel feat

FORMER national swimmer Thum Ping Tjin had a National Day surprise from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong - a letter congratulating him on being the first Singaporean to swim the English Channel.

The letter, sent on Tuesday to Mr Thum's college in Oxford University, praised the 26-year-old for having braved 35 km of cold water for 12 hours to conquer 'the Everest of swimming'.

Mr Lee wrote: 'You pressed on through bad weather and difficult conditions, showing fortitude and resolve. Your adventurous spirit, boldness to take on a difficult challenge, and strength to carry it through are an inspiration to us all.'

The Singapore leader said he hoped that Mr Thum's feat would 'encourage many more Singaporeans to dare to dream, and to act on those dreams for themselves, for their families, and for Singapore'.

Mr Thum said he decided on the swim as it was 'one of the greatest human challenges'. He also hopes to raise money for Action for Aids and sponsor the Methodist Schools Foundation.

His picking Singapore's National Day month was no accident. He said: 'Singapore is 40 this year, you can't say she's young anymore. Someone's got to step up and say this is who we are - Singapore is a people who are brave and who are willing to go out into the world and be looked at by others as equals.'

The Straits Times, 11 August 2005:

Forum: What youths can learn from Channel swim

I WOULD like to congratulate former national swimmer Thum Ping Tjin for being the first Singaporean to swim across the English Channel last weekend. He has done Singapore proud.

Such good news calls for a celebration. After all, this is hitherto something of a rarity and still very much a novelty on this island.

Singaporeans, particularly disaffected youths, can draw important lessons from his triumph over appalling adversity.

However, while we celebrate Mr Thum's great success, we must not forget that a lot of preparatory work and sacrifices were needed before he ventured into the channel. It was a brave attempt that could spell disaster or tragedy, even for a former national swimmer.

What is more laudable are his relentless pursuit of success, and fighting spirit to make his dream come true.

Mr Thum is no ordinary dreamer. Though he dreamt big, he must have worked doubly hard behind the scenes in preparation for the gruelling 35km journey, a fact obscured by the media attention on his accomplishment.

Mr Thum's perseverance was finally rewarded when he reached the shore of France at Cap Gris Nez. Nobody would have derived greater satisfaction and fulfilment out of this experience than him.

I hope that this success story of a Singaporean will really capture the imagination of our youth. They must not be under the illusion that Mr Thum's feat was an overnight success. We read in the newspaper that from beginning to end, the swim was fraught with difficulties and risks.

Fervour, diligence, courage and tenacity are essential qualities for completing the swim across the channel. Do our youths possess these positive qualities that separate motivated individuals from mediocrities?

How often do we come across promising talents among youths who lack discipline and patience to carry through their plans or projects? There are far too many distractions for them. A lot of their time is misspent in shopping malls, arcades and on the Internet. It is such a waste of their talents and time.

What is more shocking is that some of these youths are apathetic about almost everything. They seem to have resigned themselves to a life of mediocrity.

Undeniably, parents play a preponderant role in instilling a sense of self-worth, self-confidence, independence and discipline in their children, who are a pillar of society.

Mr Thum's successful attempt at crossing the channel has proven that any Singaporean with an abiding passion and assiduousness will also one day be able to scale the heights in whatever profession he or she is in.

In my opinion, achieving success or fame is secondary to possessing the right attitude towards life.

Having just celebrated Singapore's 40th birthday, my greatest wish as an educator would be to see our youths displaying greater vitality, exuberance, passion for life and, more importantly, finding meaning in life.

Chiang Ky

Oxford Mail, 11 August 2005:

City Student's Channel Glory
Swimmer Battled Five-Feet Waves In Record Bid

by Emma-Kate Lidbury

Oxford Student PJ Thum was more than three hours into his Channel swim when the weather turned and he had to battled five-feet high waves.

But after eight hours of repeatedly telling himself to 'just keep taking another stroke', he made it to France and earned himself a place int he record books in the process.

PJ, 25, who completed his undergraduate degree at Hertford College, Oxford, and is due to return there in October to study for a doctorate in modern history, completed the gruelling swim in 12 hours 24 minutes and became the first Singaporean to swim the English Channel.

He said, "It was much harder than I thought it would be. Based on how I had been training, I thought I would do a sub to-hour swim.

"But I never really registered how fickle Mother Nature can be. Even though the forecast was good, about three hours into it I was on the pace I wanted to be when the weather turned.

"I was then battling with five-feet high waves and it really felt like I was in a washing machine. I could barely move my arms and legs and almost gave up. I just kept thinking, 'I've got to get back to the boat, just take a few more strokes' - and I ended up telling myself to 'just take a few more strokes for the next eight hours. I was so tired and very nauseous. I didn't think I would make it.

"My legs gave way halfway through and I was just dragging them and using my arms.

"It was only right at the end when I put my feet down on dry land that I realised I had made it. I hadn't thought I would up to that point. I was relieved more than anythng else. I struggled up onto dry land. I sank to my knees and punched the air. All the tension, frustration, and relief just came out."

PJ set off from Shakespeare Beach, Dover, and finished 22 miles later at Cap Grisnez, France, where he was greeted by a film crew from Channel News Asia and journalists from the Straits Times of Singapore, who featured him on their front page the following day.

PJ, who lives in Winchester Road, Oxford, said, "I was raising money for two Singaporean charities and also timed the swim to coincide with Singapore's National Day so a lot of things came together to make it a very, very meaningful day."

He was sponsored by the Methodist Schools' Foundation of Singapore.

Because Channel swimming is bound by strict rules, PJ could only wear a pair of trunks, a hat and swimming goggles, and was not permitted a wet suit, despite temperatures as low as 17 degrees Celcius. "The cold water can be the toughest part, not the distance," he said, "It was really cruel."

Channel News Asia/News 5 Tonight, 21 August 2005:

First Singaporean to swim across English Channel gets warm welcome home
By Dominique Loh, Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE : Thum Ping Tjin, or PJ Thum, the first Singaporean to swim across the English Channel, has returned home.

And his supporters were there to receive him at Changi Airport on Sunday night.

PJ received a hero's welcome after he completed what most consider is the "Mt Everest of Swimming".

The former national swimmer completed the feat in about 12 and a half hours in the chilling 18 degree Celsius waters separating England and France.

It was therefore not surprising to see him relishing the warm reception and looking forward to soaking in the sunny weather back home in Singapore.

However it was not all smooth sailing for PJ who almost didn't complete the swim.

PJ Thum said: "After about 3 hours when the weather was really bad, even my pilot was worried, and that's when it's bad. At that time I seriously thought of giving up, but I just couldn't let myself. I said not yet, a few more strokes and a few more strokes, I'm almost there, half an hour more really." - CNA

Channel News Asia/News 5 Tonight, 22 August 2005:

Istana tea reception for sailors, English Channel swimmer
By Valarie Tan, Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE : President S.R. Nathan on Monday hosted a tea reception at the Istana for several Singaporeans who made the country proud with their recent achievements.

Singapore's young sailing pair Teo Wee Chin and Terence Koh were the first Asians to win a gold medal last month at the World Youth Sailing Championship in Busan, South Korea.

Mr P.J. Thum, the first Singaporean to swim the English Channel, was also present.

The team shared their proud moments with President Nathan in a video and presented him with a sailing souvenir. - CNA/de


The Straits Times: "Mind Your Body" Supplement, 24 August 2005:

Channelling energy

Thum Ping Tjin is the first Singaporean to swim across the English Channel. At 9.19pm on Aug 6, he walked on a French beach after 12 hours, 24 minutes and 7 seconds in the water and 34km from his starting point in England. Elaine Young talks to the 26-year-old former national swimmer, who will return to Oxford University next month to do a Doctorate in Philosophy in Modern History.

Why did you decide to swim across the English Channel?

'My philosophy on life is that we're here to explore our boundaries, and that we know and serve ourselves best when we seek to explore the boundaries of the human spirit and the body. This philosophy is as much Confucian as it is Christian.

'Also, to set an example for others, because anyone, anywhere can do great things, no matter who you are or where you are born.

'Lastly, for charity (Methodist Schools Foundation and Action for Aids Singapore) because I'm a believer in the importance and power of education.'

How does training for the Channel swim differ from training for, say, the Olympics in 1996?

They are very different. Training for the Channel is not about speed (your speed is largely dependent on the weather, which you cannot control) but about endurance.

You practise breaking your body down, because it is inevitable that you will be in incredible pain, you will be very cold, you will be nauseous, and so on. You may even start to turn delusional as the cold affects your brain. You have to be familiar with all these things as they are unavoidable.

Also, you have to practise swimming through waves and swimming with or against the tide. Finally, you have to also come to understand that no matter how well you prepare, it won't be enough and unexpected things will happen.

How did you prepare for the water at the August temperature of 15-18 deg C?

I practised swimming in water that was under 16 degrees as much as I could. I also put on as much fat as I could, but I was not terribly successful - I kept losing weight due to my severe training. My most successful strategy was adapted from sumo wrestlers' diets: skip breakfast, eat only meals - a massive lunch and dinner - and sleep right after both.

I knew the cold would be my worst enemy, so I practised assiduously in coping with it, and I'm glad to say my preparation paid off. I managed it very well during my swim.

I anticipated my shivering, I anticipated my cramps, and so I was able to manage both. Thanks to my preparation, the cold never penetrated deeply enough to send me into uncontrollable spasms.

Mentally, how did you prepare for the swim?

By preparing for as many eventualities as possible. I talked to many people who had done it before and learnt from their experience. I simulated the conditions of my swim as much as possible and grew used to the conditions.

For example, to make sure I would not react adversely to the carbohydrate mix I would be drinking, I drank nothing but the mix for one day and monitored how my body responded. Perhaps most significantly, I prepared for the swim largely alone. I went to England alone, lived alone and grew used to solitude.

Which was the harder part of the swim - the physical or mental aspect?

Dealing with the weather unexpectedly turning very bad. It was very hard battling the waves as progress was extremely slow.

I was frustrated, exhausted and nauseous and it would have been easy to give up.

My pilot said most people he had taken across would have given up. It was over an hour before the weather improved and it was extremely difficult to keep going throughout.

The challenge is much more a mental one than a physical one, in my opinion. I kept focusing on taking a few strokes at a time, and I focused on why I was doing the swim and why I should keep going.

How has your body reacted to the swim?

Initially, I had a tough time eating and sleeping. I had filled up with so much carbohydrate and salt water that I felt full for the next few days. I was also in so much pain from my sore muscles that I couldn't relax. My triceps and shoulders hurt so badly I couldn't lift my arms about my head.

However, I've been able to recover slowly since and my appetite has returned.

Some people have done multiple crossings. Will you ever do it again?

No. New challenges await!


If you want to become the second Singaporean to swim the Channel, go to this website:


Anglo-Chinese School Alumni Magazine (Echo), August/September 2005:

A " THUMPING " Feat by THUM PING Tjin!

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-kilometre (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 40 th 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 40 th 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.”

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.






Mrs Pat Thum (centre) with NMP Ms Eunice Olsen &
Mrs Joni Ong (MSF Chairman) at the COMcurrentSWIM

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 ”.

“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. 

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.

(left) 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.

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 ”.

Channel News Asia/News 5 Tonight, 12 September 2005:

Action for AIDS to spread safe sex messages for youths
By Rita Zahara, Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE : Nearly half of all new HIV infections occur in young people aged between 15 and 24.

The Health Ministry reported three new cases involving youths last year, up from one to two in previous years.

Now the Action for AIDS (AFA) hopes to roll out more youth educational programmes to spread safe sex messages.

Mr Thum Ping Tjin, 26, became the first Singaporean to swim across the English Channel in August in 12 hours and 24 minutes.

Now, the former teacher of ACS International wants to inspire youths in other ways.

Mr Thum said: "I swam to inspire youths, the youths of Singapore...I swam so that young Singaporeans too can feel they can do anything if they follow their dreams but once you get AIDS, it really complicates your really is the only way to beat AIDS."

There are currently 16 youth volunteers who reach out to teens, providing accurate information on HIV or AIDS, and the risks of unprotected sex and how they can keep themselves safe.

Action for AIDS hopes to double the efforts and the funds needed to run the programme, from $20,000 to $40,000.

Mr Paul Toh, Executive Director of Action for AIDS, said: "It is a worrying trend because more younger people are getting infected and are down with STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), and HIV.

"We need to plough in more money to go into these internet areas and address these teenagers and their needs, and address the safer sex messages to them, tell them about the vulnerabilities, talk about condoms, and if they know about it, the least they could do is protect themselves."

Action for AIDS gave talks to nearly 20 schools last year and this year, it hopes to reach out to more youths especially those in secondary schools.

While sex education has been approved by the Health Ministry, the organisation wants to go a step further by talking about safe sex practices and its consequences.

Mr Thum will front the AIDS awareness programme alongside MediaCorp artistes like Sharon Au and Tay Ping Hui, and Channel NewsAsia presenters Diana Ser and Cheryl Fox.

Funds from the sale of the calendars ($10 each) will be used to roll out more youth education programmes. - CNA/de

The Straits Times, 17 September 2005:

SPREAD THE WORD : Mr Thum lends his support to the AFA.


THE photograph shows a condom hanging from a line, with a tagline that says:
'Don't hang out without me, be safe not sorry.'
  It's a page from a calendar by Aids awareness group Action for Aids (AFA) to
raise funds and to spread the message of safe sex, especially among young
  Said AFA executive director Paul Toh: 'More young people are getting
infected, so it's important for us to reach out to them.'
  Last year, three people aged below 20 contracted the HIV virus, up from just
one or two in the previous five years.
  The calendar will feature portraits of MediaCorp celebrities Sharon Au, Tay
Ping Hui, Diana Ser and Cheryl Fox, together with safe sex taglines.
  The actual portraits had been auctioned off in February, raising $20,000 for
  Former national swimmer Thum Ping Tjin,  26, who became the first Singaporean
to swim across the English Channel last month, will also be endorsing the
  He penned a foreword addressed to young people for the calendar.
  Mr Thum said: 'I wanted my swim to inspire young Singaporeans to follow
their dreams...But you can't really do that if your life is complicated by
something as terrible as Aids, so I hope to tell young people to make the most
of their lives, avoid casual sex.'
  The calendar is expected to be launched next month.
  The group hopes to sell 10,000 copies at $10 each, to raise $100,000 to fund
its programmes, especially those targeted at youth.
  These include talks at secondary schools, junior colleges, polytechnics and
the Institute of Technical Education, on Aids and safe sex, as well as an
outreach programme to out-of-school youths who hang out at game arcades and
shopping malls.
  From the time the youth programme began in August last year to May this
year, the group has spoken to more than 6,000 young people in 22 local and
international schools.
  The aim is to reach 20,000 young people by the end of this year, and to
expand the programme next year.

©2004 P.J. Thum