Two years in the planning ... five months of training ... 12 hours and 32 minutes of exhaustion ... then victory
British expat is greeted by well wishers after toiling through the night to complete epic feat to raise money for the underprivileged – now for that beer
Nobody in the city deserves a pint on Saturday night more than Simon Holliday, the 39-year-old expat who completed a solo circumnavigation of Hong Kong Island on Saturday afternoon.
“On many occasions, I visualised an ice cold glass with gold nectar inside,” said Holliday, who successfully swam the 45km circumference of the island in 12 hours and 32 minutes. His feat came more than 40 years since Australian Olympian Linda McGill became the first swimmer ever to swim around the island. She achieved the milestone back in 1976 in 17 hours.
Holliday’s emphatic feat of endurance came to a conclusion at Sai Wan Swimming Shed at 3.32pm, where he was swarmed by loved ones and members of his Splash foundation – a charity providing swimming lessons for the city’s under-resourced community. Splash surpassed its target of raising HK$1 million in the lead up to the swim.
“I looked up and all these people were finding space to cheer me on,” said Holliday, who explained the swim took a total of two years of planning and receiving government permission. “I really feel this swim has been a team effort.
“We were a long way off our target a few weeks ago, but we had some very generous donations from people who love swimming as much as I do; who see the work that we’re doing to help foreign domestic workers, refugees and underprivileged kids have the same opportunities as everyone else.”
Holliday set off on the island’s most western point at 2.30am in an attempt to avoid any congested waters. But even during the early stages of the swim, Holliday faced some mental hurdles.
“I had a lot of doubts, especially during the first couple of hours. It was dark and spooky in the harbour, and when I’m only two hours in, I thought ‘why did I sign up for this?’
“I always think that, then I do it and realise it wasn’t that bad.”
The conditions thereafter appeared to work in the Briton’s favour as he clocked in hours earlier than initially anticipated.
“It was like clockwork. I don’t think I’ve ever done a swim where everything goes to plan, but it did today.
“Shu [Pu] did an amazing job of planning and pulling all the parts together; my coach Henry [Wright] helped me with my stroke, trying to extend it and get the last bit right; and Ross [Vickers] the navigator was world class – he knew what to do when we were pulled out at the channels or needed to pick up the tide.”
Fortunately there were no jellyfish encounters this time around, but there were certainly moments of little to no progress, revealed Holliday.
“There were a few surprises at Cape D’Aguilar. I thought I was going to get a big push towards Stanley, but it was the complete opposite – choppy and hard to get the rhythm right.
“My next sighting point were the satellites on the other side of Stanley, but they never seemed to come.”
Support vessels tailed Holliday throughout to ensure he was on the right course and had sufficient feeding intervals.
“One [feed] took a lot longer than it should have, so I got pushed out which meant I had to fight the tide to get back to Ap Lei Chau,” he said.
Hong Kong Olympic swimmers Hannah Wilson and Camille Cheng also took dips in the harbour in support of Holliday and his worthy cause.
“There were times where I was out of juice – no more energy. That’s where the support swimmers helped me.
“I’d feel really, really low, but someone would pop in the water and push me to swim well. Even when I was negative, they would reply with something positive.”
After two years of organising, five months of intense training and 12 and a half hours of excruciatingly monotonous swimming, was it as hellish as Holliday and Co expected?
“Hell is maybe a strong word – it felt like I was in limbo at times, though.”
Holliday has etched his name into Hong Kong history and it has given his charity the boost it needed to finally take off. If that is not a cause for celebration, then what is?
“I hadn’t had a beer in six weeks. I want one right now to share the success with all the people who made this possible.”