Swimming the English Channel After Covid-19: The Challenge And The Message

Photo: Looking out over the English Channel, courtesy of Chun Kong Mak.

“I swam across the English Channel after recovering from coronavirus to show that the fear of the virus is worse than the virus itself.”

Brno, Sep 20 (BD) – Passionate and perseverant are two words one can use to describe Chun Kong Mak, a Brno-based record-breaking swimmer from Hong Kong. The 34-year-old swimmer works as an analytical chemist in a pharmaceutical company in Blansko while participating in swimming competitions from time to time.

The moment Mak plunged into the cold water in Altenworth, Austria, on February 16th, his life was never going to remain the same. He swam butterfly for a distance of 1.6km in 5 degrees water temperature in just 43 minutes, becoming the first man to swim the famous “Ice Mile” in butterfly style. “After the swim, I blacked out,” he said.

Mak swimming the English Channel despite all odds. Photo: Courtesy of Chun Kong Mak.

In March, Mak was struck with a flu-like infection which he contracted on a leisure trip to London. His experience during this time was one of despair, yet dotted with luck. “I felt feverish. At home it escalated everyday. I had a sore throat, runny nose. I had joint and muscle pains previously but they became amplified.” After some days, Mak felt better, but he wanted to get tested to be sure. A test confirmed his fear. He had coronavirus.

He was asked to quarantine for a total of 28 days and could only leave his house after two consecutive negative corona tests. Mak feared that the infection would affect his ability to swim, because ever since he had got back into swimming, the Hong-Konger had been setting new challenges for himself. “Most Czech people think that I am crazy for the challenges I set for myself,” he said.

At 25, Mak moved to Europe to continue his academic career in Chemistry. He completed his Ph.D in Germany, after which he “hung around in Europe without knowing what was next in life. I struggled to start my career again. In a year, I applied for 140 jobs without luck.” Meeting his coach Rostislav Vitek, a former 10km Olympic open water finalist and Ice Mile world record holder, was a defining moment in his swimming career. 

Mak had not swum in a competition since moving to Europe. “I never thought about going back to swimming but slowly, I began to swim again.” He swam 5km through the Hungarian Balaton Lake. Since then, “I realised that swimming guided me to find a path for my life,” he said

Chun Kong Mak on the English shore and pointing towards France. He was determined to face the challenge. Photo: Courtesy of Chun Kong Mak.

Mak swam across the English Channel on September 2nd. The distance was 34km, but he ended up swimming at least 54km due to the ocean tide. On completing the crossing in 14 hours, he was filled with emotions. “I cried on the beach when I got out of the water. I was overwhelmed. My siblings think I am crazy. My dad always told me I could not live from swimming.”

Swimming the English Channel was a huge challenge to Mak. The water temperature was about 17 degrees Celsius, and the strong tides were a constant struggle. Hong-Kongers are not used to cold water. Yet for Mak, it was about determination.

“The sea was rough and tough. Four hours after I began swimming, I vomited everything out of my stomach. My coach kept urging me on. After the swimming, my left shoulder and arm were in pain. My right front arm became swollen and my stomach was in a bad condition. It took my body many days to return to normal.”

Mak savours the warmth of a hot cup of tea after 14 hours of long-distance swimming. Photo: Courtesy of Chun Kong Mak.

Mak became the first Hong-Konger ever to swim the English Channel, a feat he was able to complete by drawing courage from the Czech people. By completing the crossing, Mak wanted to show the world that “the fear of the virus is worse than the virus itself.” He hopes that Hong-Kongers can draw inspiration from it. 

“I admire the history of how the Czechs fought for their democracy and freedom decades ago. Now, let’s hope Hong-Kongers can successfully do the same. I used my swimming challenge as an example to demonstrate that the Czech know-how can be transferred to a Hong-Konger.”

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