“I like to just think of myself as a normal person who just has a passion, has a goal and a dream and goes out and does it. And that’s really how I’ve always lived my life.” ― Michael Phelps
(16th October) Accompanied by a two beat flutter kick, my arm stanches like windmill arc motions forward, caressing the moving water, locking on and pressing it back. I made every endeavour to extend my hand further and keep body balancing, and continued battling against the swirling currents while being pushed backward at the same time. Could you imagine I was once a little girl, being scared of gilding with my face down into the pool during most of my childhood, was now at the choppy centre of the Victoria Harbour, one of the world’s busiest ports against the backdrop of towering skyscrapers?
Every day, thousands of ferries, container ships and transport cargos, with engine pressed, cleave over the white crested waves and deep waters of the Victoria Harbour. However, for three hours this morning, such busy traffic was replaced by flocks of eager swimmers like us who raced 1.5km from the pier of Lei Yu Mun to the opposite one in Quarry Bay once a year. Since 1906, the Cross Harbour Race, despite its suspension from 1979 to 2010, has been an iconic event in Hong Kong with vibrant photos of sturdy athletes diving in the Victoria Harbour, forming a colourful display between the gorgeous cosmopolitan landscape of two sides.
This year, palpable excitement and cheering buzzed in the morning air as the invigorated swimmers were queueing up all the way to the pier, wearing ankle electronic transponder and tethering orange tow float to our waist to aid visibility in the water. Myriads of us were chattering in excitement to one another about their recent swimming experience; while some others were stretching to warm their muscles for final preparation. At that moment, an opening speech boomed over the crowd, with guests wishing us an enjoyable swim. Three thousands of us, immersed in such an encouraging ambience with ear-shattering applause, were altogether waving our hands and exclaiming “We are ready!” in confidence.
“I want to test my maximum and see how much I can do.” ― Michael Phelps
While sunlit clouds drifted across clear blue sky under balmy weather, the expanse of blue water stretched in every direction to the horizon, with warm water temperature of 27 degrees. After the marshal raised his deafening start gun, the glassy blueness of the sea was gradually teemed with churning white puffs and sharp orange tow floats as swarms of swimmers leaped into the water in vivacity. Among a scrum of wind-milling arms, I was also in the water with rhythmic freestyle strokes, kept my legs straight and ankles relax, and let my flutter kicks continue in steady motion. In such smooth swim, time elapsed like a brink when I soon arrived at the first buoy full of energy.
Despite my confidence to participate in this Cross Harbour swim in these two consecutive years, it actually took years for a younger me to surmount overwhelming fear towards water. Those were the struggling months when I huddled at the edge of the training pool and started whimpering for fear of drowning. Those were the tough times when I dare not to hold my breath and crouch down until my nose is under the shallow water, and those were the days when I asked my mom not to let me attend such kind of lessons anymore with moans and groans. It wasn’t until I met another coach who whispered encouraging words to me that I could conquer the fear of drowning, if I ever reached my first step with courage. He offered me his helping hand as he stood in the pool beneath me, and to my disbelief, after his patient teaching, I eventually ended up learning the basic technique of swimming weeks later.
I almost lost into deep thoughts of my childhood swimming experience when a canoe drove in front of my vision, and a lifesaving guard there kept reminding me to swim rightwards and follow the main route back. At that moment did I figure out how distant I had already separated from the nearest orange tow float, due to the interference from choppy water and reducing visibility of my goggles. With currents dragging us away from the course line during the halfway swim, I still set great store on maintaining my streamlined body and keeping speedy kicks in whirling waters, as well as turning my head as smoothly as possible while breathing regularly in every four strokes.
Nowadays, every time when being enveloped in the water, it is like I am in an alternative world, an enchanting private world that is free of defy gravity and lets the weight of study pressure be thrown into the abyss of oblivion in that particular hour. Far from hectic life and clamours, it is an invaluable personal moment to clear my dreary mind just by being alone without knowing how time flies, or just to listen to the subtlety of the melodious water sound when slogging through thousand mindless metres, or powerful water splashes when sprinting with a quickening pace.
“I feel most at home in the water. I disappear. That’s where I belong.” ― Michael Phelps
The Victoria Harbour seemed to look serene at the beginning of the race, but in fact, the waves became much stronger especially in the last few hundred metres. They kept rushing back and forth, soaring up and down, hitting me primarily right in my chest and pushing me backwards. Mouthful of salty water was soon reached my goggles and I could taste it over my lip when the unfavorable currents continued pulling against me. Though in face of rough sea, I stretched my stroke out further and surfed with the opposing tides, despite not making much progress. I felt like I had to grasp massively on the water, with huge amount of resistance in each pull. Over the distance lies a last buoy and a red spot that indicated the finish line, yet the swim seemed tediously endless when I was floating parallel and battling against swirling currents.
However weary I was against the opposing stream, my heart lifted with sheer relish when finally slapping the touch pad and reaching the finish line, knowing that I had just accomplished an open water swim by stretching own limits. This long-distance race of crossing the famous Victoria Harbour seemed tough with rippling waters, twisted waves and a blazing sun. Yet, the courage I took the plunge in this swim, the relentless faith that I empowered myself to remain persistent, and those blood, tears and sweat I had been devoting in such endurance pastime finally prompted me to rise to this challenge. Other than sustaining endeavour and unyielding determination, there is no magical formula of transforming myself from resisting to swim in teary eyes to conquering the waves of Victoria Harbour, with pride.
Tracing back my ups and downs in my swimming experience, I realise how much I have been making the most of my leisure time to polish my skills, and how much I have been immersing myself in pushing myself for longer distance and faster pace with unwavering enthusiasm. Conquering the fear of drowning and the unknown, of what might be lurking below the water surface, of the insecurities of constantly changing sea tides – is all about an iron of will and the “never-give-up” attitude. After all, it is my conviction that, just like this Cross Harbour swim, everything strenuous will be overcome in each aspect of life if we stride towards our goals against all odds. Nothing is impossible. ♦
“I wouldn’t say anything is impossible. I think that everything is possible as long as you put your mind to it and put the work and time into it.” ― Michael Phelps
Some photos attribution to: New World Harbour Race