Through fog and hail: Navy doctor is first S’porean to swim across 192km Hudson River in New York
He swam for hours on end to build endurance, and dunked himself in a tub of 17 deg C water weekly to get used to the cold that awaited him.
But Dr Chua Jia Long still got a shock when he dipped his toes into New York’s Hudson River for the first time last Friday.
“Muscles that I didn’t even know I had, began immediately cramping,” quipped the 32-year-old Republic of Singapore Navy medical officer.
Despite the frigid water, Dr Chua became the first Singaporean to swim across the river, covering 192km – about the length of Singapore’s entire coastline – in around 44 hours, spread across seven days.
He is only the 24th person in the world to conquer the 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim.
Dubbed the longest marathon swim in the world, the Hudson River challenge had always been a dream for Dr Chua, who included a charity component in his swim last week.
He is raising funds for St. Luke’s Hospital in Singapore, having worked as a medical officer there in 2021, as part of his residency training.
“Back then, I was involved in both inpatient and outpatient care, and saw the positive benefit that St Luke’s was providing to the community, so I wanted to do my part for the hospital,” he said.
After surpassing his target of raising $25,000, Dr Chua has revised the goal amount to $250,000. As of June 20, over $68,000 has been raised.
Despite being comfortable swimming long distances in open water - he has taken part in marathon swimming since 2019 - the 8 Bridges swim was still an intimidating prospect.
After all, the longest distance he had swum competitively previously was a 10km stretch in Thailand, before the pandemic.
As if the total distance of the 8 Bridges challenge was not daunting enough, he arrived in New York on June 6 and was greeted by poor weather, and wildfires from Canada had turned the sky orange.
“During the competition days, there were thunderstorms, fog and hail,” added Dr Chua.
“At one point, I was about 2km away from the finishing point, and I could see it (in the distance). A few moments later, I couldn’t see anything but a fog.
“There were also times when the winds were really strong, and would physically push me in the opposite direction, causing me to slow my pace.”
Despite the “discouraging” conditions, Dr Chua, who was accompanied by a boat and a kayaker throughout the race to ensure his safety and to navigate him in the right direction, was able to battle through the challenges.
Physically, he was well-prepared, thanks to a gruelling training regimen.
He rose at 4.30am each day to swim up to 5km before work, before ending his day with another session in the swimming pool.
He gradually increased the distances and duration of his swims over time, and eventually worked his way up to cover 20km – or 400 laps of the pool – in about six and a half hours.
All those hours were worth it when he completed the final stage of the 8 Bridges race last Friday, swimming past the Statue of Liberty and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which leads out into the Atlantic Ocean.
“After completing such a big competition, we receive just a certificate,” said Dr Chua. “But it means a lot. It gives more meaning to your passion.”
Dr Chua’s initial trepidation with the Hudson River is now but a footnote in his achievement, and his success in New York has only spurred him to join similar swims elsewhere.
“This competition’s experience just strengthened my willpower, and showed me what I am able to achieve.
“It has also given me better knowledge and skillset to cover other rivers, lakes and oceans in the world next.”
For those who wish to donate to Dr Chua’s fundraiser, they may do so at https://give.asia/campaign/swim-for-st-luke-s-hospital#/.