SINGAPORE - As Li Ling Yung-Hryniewiecki set off on her mission to swim across the English Channel from Samphire Hoe near Dover in England at 1am last Sunday (Sept 11), she could barely see what was in front of her.
Donning a regular swim suit - one that did not cover her legs and arms - goggles, nose clips, ear plugs and a swimming cap, the 37-year-old cut through the chilly 19 deg C waters in the dark.
With just a boat - her husband and her coach were onboard - accompanying her, she swam for the next 12 hours and 54 minutes before arriving at Cap Gris-Nez in northern France. The cape is the closest point of France to England, a distance of 34km.
But celebrations were put on hold till she returned to England. Successful channel swimmers write their names on the walls of two pubs in Dover and after enjoying some champagne with her sister's family, Yung-Hryniewiecki etched hers as well, before adding a significant footnote - "first Singaporean woman" - next to hers.
Singaporean historian Thum Ping Tjin, a former national swimmer who competed at the 1996 Olympic Games, was the first Singaporean to achieve the feat in 2005.
Briton Matthew Webb was the first recorded person to complete the swim in 1875, taking almost 22 hours.
Yung-Hryniewiecki, who participated regularly in triathlons in the United Kingdom where she relocated about 18 years ago, was swimming to raise funds for the Splash Foundation, a non-profit organisation in Hong Kong where she has lived since 2019.
She said: "It's great that I can use the publicity to help fundraising and get more people aware of what Splash does.
"It's a great achievement, but it's not out of this world - a lot of my friends have done it. I'm very relieved and just glad the training has paid off."
She had spent the past two years planning for this swim, from the south of England to the north of France. The straight-line distance is about 34km but the route varies depending on the weather and tidal conditions.
To prepare her body for the cold, Yung-Hryniewiecki took hour-long ice baths - the water was between 13.5 and 16 deg C - and put on 10kg of vital body fat necessary to maintain an optimal core temperature.
She also clocked at least 30 to 35km every other week. There were a few weeks when she swam 45km, with her longest training session lasting almost 10 hours.
She had swum across the Channel before, in 2018, but as part of a three-person relay. Two years later, she completed the 19.7km Rottnest Channel Swim near Perth.
But Sunday's effort was her toughest challenge. To get herself through almost 13 hours of non-stop swimming, she broke it down into 30-minute intervals.
Every half an hour, her coach would throw a bottle on a rope containing one of four liquid feeds to fuel her swim: a maltodextrin complex carbohydrate sports drink, flat Coke with sugar added, sports gels that were dissolved in water or Milo.
Yung-Hryniewiecki would flip around, her back on the water, to consume the feed for about 20 seconds while doing a breaststroke kick so she did not lose too much time.
Painkillers were mixed in with some of the feed and she also took sea sick pills every four to six hours.
She said: "When you're swimming, you have so little stimulus, you have these small little things to look forward to.
"The bigger goal was looking forward to the sunrise. I knew it was going to be around 6am and when I started seeing clouds and colour in the sky, it lifted my spirits a lot."
While most of the swim was uneventful, things got challenging at the 11½-hour mark, when the tide changed and Yung-Hryniewiecki realised she was drifting away from her planned route.
For 20 minutes, she entered a state of panic that affected her stroke, resulting in it being "a bit more splashy and less graceful", but quitting was not an option for her.
After all, her motivation was for something bigger than herself. Yung-Hryniewiecki, who works in the banking industry, is a volunteer coach with the Splash Foundation, which provides free learn-to-swim lessons and water safety skills to low-income communities in Hong Kong.
She hopes to raise HK$250,000 (S$44,750) to aid its expansion plans to Singapore.
For now, Yung-Hryniewiecki intends to spend some time with her husband and dog before looking for her next adventure.
She said: "I do enjoy it and I don't want to force myself. When I feel naturally that I'm raring to go again, I'll sign up for something else."
Those interested can donate to Splash here (https://tinyurl.com/2p9b6cv7).