Singaporean takes ice baths, gains 10kg to prepare for English Channel swim

Li Ling Yung-Hryniewiecki hopes to become the first Singaporean woman to swim across the English Channel.
PHOTO: Edie Hu

For the past several months, Li Ling Yung-Hryniewiecki has engaged in a peculiar bath-time routine. She fills her bath with cold water and ice to reach a temperature of 13 to 15 degrees Celsius (55 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit), and instead of having wine or reading a book, she will put on YouTube and, quite literally, chill out.

That’s part of the preparation for her next big swim, in which she will attempt to become the first Singaporean woman to swim the 33.7 kilometres (21 miles) across the English Channel – the stretch of water between England and France.

This will be no simple feat – more people have climbed Mount Everest than have swum across the Channel.

Li Ling Yung-Hryniewiecki is raising funds for Splash Foundation, a Hong Kong-based charity that provides free swimming lessons to domestic helpers and low-income communities.
PHOTO: Kenny Li

Yung-Hryniewiecki, 37, works in risk management. She hails from Singapore, and lived in the United Kingdom for 15 years before moving to Hong Kong in 2019 for work.

She started swimming at around four years of age, stopped around the age of 10, and only resumed about 10 years ago.

Her motivation to complete the crossing is to raise funds for Splash Foundation, a Hong Kong charity that provides free swimming lessons to domestic helpers and low-income communities. She has been a volunteer coach with the group since 2019, and the funds raised will support Splash’s expansion into Singapore.

Yung-Hryniewiecki started doing triathlons in the UK before narrowing her focus to swimming several years later.

Long-distance swimming held particular appeal; it felt more like a personal challenge as opposed to a race against the clock.

“I was never fast enough to be competitive in the pool anyway,” Yung-Hryniewiecki says. Swimming in the open sea adds an element of unfamiliarity. “Every time you swim somewhere else [in] open water, it’s always an adventure, because the scenery is different, the challenges are different, the type of water is different,” she says.

She has swum in reservoirs, lakes and seas around the world. In 2020, she completed the 19.7km Rottnest Channel Swim near Perth, Australia. In Hong Kong, she regularly swims in the Cold Half, a 15km winter marathon charity swim, and she was also the third woman to swim around Hong Kong Island – a 44km swim.

She began seriously training for the Channel swim around six months ago in pools and open water, up to six sessions of up to two hours during the week, and sessions on weekends that stretched up to 10 hours. At one point, she swam a total of 45km in a week.

She has swum the Channel before, in 2018, but as part of a three-person relay. To prepare for her solo swim across the Channel (the water temperature is around 17 to 19 degrees Celsius at this time of year), she has trained during the winter in Hong Kong at Stanley, Big Wave Bay, Repulse Bay and Deep Water Bay, where the sea temperature is 15 to 16 degrees Celsius.

To train for her Channel swim, Yung-Hryniewiecki regularly swam at beaches in Stanley, Repulse Bay and Deep Water Bay in Hong Kong.
PHOTO: Edie Hu

She considers the cold to be among her biggest nemeses. For the Channel swim, she’ll only be allowed the basics: a swimsuit, goggles, swim cap and earplugs. A nose clip is permitted, but she doesn’t wear one.

“It’s just mental preparation and physical preparation, because you can build up tolerance over time, and you can build up your mental capacity to deal with it,” she says.

Yung-Hryniewiecki also exercises with stretch cords and bands to strengthen her quads, ankles and shoulders. She has put on an additional 10kg with a carbohydrate- and protein-heavy diet to prepare for the swim.

Having more body fat can help to conserve body heat and prevent hypothermia during a cold swim, she says.

In the past several days, Yung-Hryniewiecki has been swimming at the Port of Dover in preparation for her crossing of the English Channel.
PHOTO: Li Ling Yung-Hryniewiecki

“One of my weaknesses, which helps a lot in weight gain, is [that] I love ice cream and milkshakes,” she says with a laugh.

She will begin her endeavour at Shakespeare’s Cliff or Samphire Hoe, between Folkestone and Dover in England, and will finish at Cap Gris-Nez in northern France.

Her swimming window is from August 31 to September 9, depending on the tides and the weather forecast.

Yung-Hryniewiecki with her husband, Adam Hryniewiecki, after her Rottnest Channel Swim in 2020.
PHOTO: Sam Poulsen

She isn’t allowed to touch any other person or boat when she gets under way, but a boat and pilot from the Channel Swimming Association (CSA) will guide her across the Channel, among the cargo ships (the English Channel is the busiest shipping area in the world).

Her husband, Adam, her past swimming coach and a CSA observer will be on the boat too, while a friend, Alec Stuart, will swim alongside her at intervals of an hour at a time for moral support.

She will rotate through different energy boosters every half an hour, to be thrown or passed to her as she treads in the sea. These include sports gels, liquids with electrolytes and carbohydrate powder, and even flat cola with extra sugar added.

During her Channel swim, Yung-Hryniewiecki will fuel up with sports gels, liquids with electrolytes and carbohydrate powder, and even flat Coke with extra sugar added.
PHOTO: Li Ling Yung-Hryniewiecki

Jellyfish are abundant in the Channel – and there’s a chance she could get stung. If that were to happen, the swimmer says simply: “I’ll just keep swimming”.

“The species in the English Channel, they’re usually not dangerous or life-threatening; they might be painful, but then you can continue.”

The only thing that will stop her completing the crossing is a major emergency that she can’t foresee, such as swimming-induced pulmonary oedema – fluid in the lungs, she says.

She is cautiously optimistic that she can finish the crossing in 13 to 14 hours. Success will make her the first Singaporean woman to swim the channel; Singaporean academic Thum Ping Tjin did so in 2005.

Hongkonger Mak Chun-kong also made the crossing in 2020. Hong Kong resident and fellow Splash coach Edie Hu did so on Aug 4 this year, representing the United States, and Splash co-founder Simon Holliday did it in 2011, representing the UK.

Over the years, Yung-Hryniewiecki has seen how Splash courses can help people build skills, confidence and even form friendships and a sense of community.

“Their ethos is that everyone can swim. I thought it was a really good message to combine [my swim with this cause], because I’m not an elite swimmer,” she says.

Alec Stuart, one of Yung-Hryniewiecki’s friends, will be swimming alongside her during parts of her Channel swim for moral support.
PHOTO: Li Ling Yung-Hryniewiecki

“It’s very close to my heart … I think swimming is one of the sports where you can be any shape, any size, any kind of speed, and you can enjoy it.”

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.