PETALING JAYA: If taking part in one of the world’s longest swimming races at 81km is not challenging enough, try doing it in the world’s most polluted river, the Ganges.
Close friends Chong Wee-Lii, Ng Choon Keith and Mohd Zaimar Omar did just that earlier this month when they signed up to participate in the 77th Open Water Long Distance Swimming Competition held in West Bengal, India, on Sept 3.
Navigating the sediment-filled and murky waters of the Bhagirathi River, also known as the Hooghly River, is a challenging task.
This river is one of the many tributaries of the Ganges. Despite the difficulties, their efforts were not in vain.
Starting at Jangipur before crossing the finish line at Berhampore in the state of Odissa, the physically and mentally gruelling swim of more than 12 hours saw Ng and Chong emerge as the first two Malaysians to complete the race.
Ng, a 39-year-old chief executive officer of a public listed company, completed the race in the 11th position, while Chong, 33, made it to the 12th position.
Chong said the trio, who belong to a swimming team, decided to participate in the Indian competition to challenge themselves in a more difficult water race.
He said in the past they competed in local water races in Sabah and Terengganu (Pulau Perhentian), but the latest feat was the most demanding.
Chong, who works as a product manager for an agriculture tech company, said a total of 22 swimmers from India and other parts of the world took part in the race.
Recounting his experience, he said the water was so murky that he could barely read the time on his watch.
“Surprisingly, the water was odourless and tasteless, although it was heavily sedimented with all kinds of particles.
“There were also carcasses of goats and cows in the river, which we passed as we swam. Then there were lots of aquatic plants and weeds floating along the way, too.
“The rules of the race are that we are only allowed to take breaks in the water and stay afloat without clinging to any support. We had to be totally unassisted.
“Safety escorts on boats that tailed us would toss us some energy food like bananas and isotonic drinks every now and then.
“We were required to eat and drink in the river when we took breaks. It was exhausting, but to stay focused, I sang songs in my mind to divert the mental strain and kept on going,” Chong told The Star.
He said Mohd Zaimar, a 46-year-old brand development manager, dropped off from the race after completing 40km but has vowed to return and participate in the competition next year.
Chong said to prepare themselves for the competition, the trio had trained under Spanish swimming coach Jose Luis Larrossa Chorro, a two-time champion of the Indian race, for the past nine months.
“We practised between 15 and 18 hours, covering about 60km every week.
“It was worth all the effort as Ng and I became the first Malaysians to win a spot in this well-known race,” he added.