Nine-year-old Chinese girl becomes youngest swimmer to conquer ‘Everest of the Seas’

Mandy Zuo

A nine-year-old Chinese girl has become the youngest person to swim across a strait linking the island province of Hainan with the mainland.

Zhou Yihan, who learned how to swim when she was just a year old, took 13 hours to make the 26km (16-mile) crossing of the Qiongzhou Strait last week, starting from Haikou, the capital of Hainan, and finishing in Xuwen in Guangdong province, mainland media reported.

The girl, a third-grade pupil from Guangzhou, set out with nine adult swimmers at 5.40am on Wednesday last week, only three of whom were able to complete the full crossing.

Yihan had to overcome repeated jellyfish attacks and strong currents that delayed her arrival, news portal Thepaper.cn reported.

Yihan was inspired by her father’s example. Photo: Pear Video

The girl was inspired by her father, Zhou Zhenyu, who successfully completed the challenge – known as the “Everest of the Seas” – last year with his daughter travelling alongside him on a support vessel.

“I thought it was fun. I wanted to do it like him,” she said.

To prepare for the crossing, she spent six days a week training in a swimming pool, with her father and a professional swimmer coaching her.

Yihan, like the others taking part in the challenge, had a support boat alongside her, and her parents and coach travelled on board to offer support.

Individual swimmers were not allowed to climb on board the vessels and had to rest, eat and drink in the sea to complete the crossing successfully, although four of the adult swimmers took part in a relay, each swimming for an hour at a time. Two others were unable to complete the crossing.

“I was bitten by a jellyfish when I was less than 1km away from the starting point. [I was bitten] more than 20 times, and I was a little worried. My coach and father took turns to swim in front of me to drive away the jellyfish,” she was quoted as saying.

“When the sea got rough halfway the waves kept me at the same point. I couldn’t move forward for quite a long time. My father was worried and asked me to get on board, but I didn’t want to quit. I wanted to keep going.”

Yihan missed the planned landing point due to a strong current and arrived later than expected.

Yihan set off last Wednesday with a group of adult swimmers, some of whom were unable to complete the crossing. Photo: Pear Video

It took her father eight hours to finish the journey last year, and he had previously expected her to take about 11 hours to make the crossing.

Her father had previously told Yangcheng Evening News that he had not encouraged his daughter to undertake the challenge, but once she had made up her mind to do it he and her mother had offered their full support.

Unlike many Chinese parents whose main concern is their children’s academic performance, he said he did not want to put too much pressure on her at such a young age.

“We want to shape her via exercise, such as swimming, rock-climbing, trampolining and gymnastics,” he told the newspaper.

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