Neither the haze of the sky, nor the murk of the water deterred the more than 100 amateur athletes from plunging into the Mekong River early Sunday.
Many swam, paddled, floated and flutter-kicked their way through the Mekong River Swim, a casual, annual race of about 650 meters that draws mostly foreign participants, plus a smattering of Cambodians.
The race started where it almost always does: the Prek Leap Agricultural College, several kilometers northeast of central Phnom Penh. This year, 118 teens, adults and seniors participated.
As a group, the eager athletes clambered down the steep, slick riverbank. Once in the silt-filled water, they adjusted goggles and swim-caps and at “go” took off for the Mekong’s eastern bank.
The swimmers spread out fast, with some sprinting ahead and others awkwardly dog paddling.
Two-person crews in kayaks and International SOS medics riding in long-tail boats kept watch with black inner tubes close at hand. It was a needed precaution.
About a hundred yards out, one man started to struggle and then, while a pair of kayakers tried to reach him, he went under. A volunteer—one of about 16 who helped coordinate the race—had to jump in and pull the man, gasping, out of the water.
That said, many swimmers at the event said they had competitive swimming experience and some even said they planned to use the experience to help train for high-tiered athletic competitions.
“I run and I bike, but I just learned to swim when I was 18,” said Tavi Riddle, a first-grade teacher from the US who is now 24. “First it was a hotel pool, and now this. Maybe next I will aim for a” triathalon.
Like Riddle, most of the swimmers returned triumphant before being ferried back to the west side of the river.
“I survived!” chortled Herve Cohan, a 49-year-old Frenchman who bound up the muddy riverbank wearing only a Speedo and a smile.