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Meet Hanoi senior who swims in Red River every day

By Lenh Thang   May 23, 2019 | 04:00 am PT
For nearly 80 years a 91-year-old man has been swimming 10 kilometers daily even in the Vietnamese capital’s cold winters.

As part of his morning routine Nguyen Huu Diem wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to leave his house in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh District and rides his bicycle three kilometers to the pier between Chuong Duong and Long Bien bridges.

Diem’s son says he is not too worried since his father has been doing this for many decades.

Once he reaches the spot, Diem warms up, lies quietly on the ground for a bit, puts on an improvised life vest made from two water bottles around his body, and leaps into the river.

Alternating between the breaststroke and front crawl, he swims across the pier to the foot of Long Bien Bridge and returns. Each lap is around four kilometers and he does two or three.

"From years of experience, I learned that when tired I should just relax, floating gently in the river current," he says.

He wraps up his morning routine with a 15-minute headstand and leisurely walk home with his bike.

Diem says this section of the river is very familiar to him since he has been living here with his parents since the age of 12.

"One day many years ago a family living on a boat nearby was shocked and panicked at seeing me swimming in the frigid weather. They approached me and I told them I was there to swim. So every day after that the family would greet me."

Perhaps thanks to his regular swimming, Diem does not suffer from osteoarthritis, he is completely healthy and still able to climb up four stairs in his house. He has never been hospitalized much or seriously ill.

On days when the temperature plummets below 10 degrees Celsius, he walks to the pier, carrying a flashlight and a clove of garlic.

"In winter, when I go swimming, I have to bring a flashlight since it is still very dark. I also bring some garlic to ward off evil since I am very afraid of ghosts." He says the last bit with a smile.

Nguyen Huu Diem, 91, swims about 10 kilometers in the Red River every day. Photo by VnExpress/Lenh Thang

Nguyen Huu Diem, 91, swims about 10 kilometers in the Red River every day. Photo by VnExpress/Lenh Thang

Diem also enjoys outdoor adventures. In 2016 his family went to Sa Pa town in Lao Cai Province to climb Fansipan Mountain, the highest peak in Indochina.

After climbing the 3.1 kilometers to the top, he wanted to help workers who were carrying materials up the mountain to build the cable car, but was gently admonished.

His children love to organize trips for him, and he has been to many countries. He is happy and grateful he is still very alert and in good enough health to swim every day.

"I am uneasy when I traveling out of town and am unable to swim. The Red River is like a pond in my house, and so I miss it very much when away from it."

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