02 Oct Be the change you want to see.
I’m back in Sydney now. The Asian Championships in Beijing was quite an experience.
Flying from Sydney to Beijing which took a total travel time of 16hours with a change of flight in Shanghai is no joke but thanks to Qantas and its amazing in-flight entertainment and a relatively empty flight, I managed to squeeze in at least 3 movies and had a comfortable sleep. The flight back to Sydney had a stopover in Hong Kong which had a very pretty view of the mountain ranges that circled around the airport.
My oars broke in half during one of the flights I took which was possibly one of the most heartbreaking events I had to experience.
Travelling without a coach or an official on the first day we arrived in Beijing was challenging. There were only two of us representing Singapore at the regatta. The ex-boyfriend made the other half of Team Singapore. It was relieving to know that we’re still nice to each other- considering that breakups usually end up with one partner hating or refusing to talk to the other. We arrived in Beijing at midnight and there was no one there to pick us up. That was only the start of the conundrum.
When we arrived at the hotel, there were no rooms for us because they could not find our names in the system. This was at 2am.
The next day when we were at the racing venue, they couldn’t find our boats.
When Coach John arrived from Singapore, we were grateful we didn’t had to do anymore official duties and could finally focus on just being an athlete. He brought along another set of oars for me to use as well, yay.
I got myself into some sort of shit when I posted a photo on social media with a caption which mentioned the taboo words “lack of funding”. The rowing association wasn’t happy when they received calls from the local papers questioning them about my post on the web. I was told to edit the post or bring it down but, why should I? Whatever is online can never be deleted anyway so what is the point of removing it? Anyway, why should I be afraid of telling the truth?
Here’s the full story in case you’re interested, and if you do spot any mistakes, please feel free to correct me.
So the Singapore Sports system works this way. They give a certain sum of money to the National Sports Associations (NSAs) every year. The amount varies and it depends on things like performance, results, plans, etc. As you know, the smaller the sport, the lesser the money we get, which makes sense. And as you also know, rowing is not really a well-known sport in Singapore and because we didn’t quite do very well at the recent SEA Games, the funding that the Singapore Rowing Association receives for this financial year, to my knowledge, is relatively small.
So after the 2015 SEA Games, I chose to train full-time in Sydney in my hopes to qualify for the Olympic Games next year. There are two ways for a female Asian rower to qualify for the Games:
1) Be the top 9 Women Single Sculler at the World Championship which has passed just a few weeks ago. Also, being Top 9 in the World seems a little far-fetched for me.
2) Qualifying through the Asian Olympic Qualification Regatta which will be held in Korea in April 2016. This is the do-or-die regatta for the Asian Olympic hopefuls, like me.
At least I know that when I compete against Asians, I am actually not considered a midget in this category! In this regatta, the Top 7 scullers will qualify for the Olympics. China came in 3rd in the World Championships so they do not have to qualify again at the Asian qualifications which is quite a relief! If I choose not to be in a single scull, I can opt to try and qualify for the Olympics in a Lightweight Double boat. However, I have not raced in a Doubles for Singapore since 2007 and furthermore, I don’t have a partner who is willing to train full-time with me.
So, this coming April, I must be top 7 in the regatta to qualify. That’s it. The Asian Championship that I participated in recently does not affect my qualification at all. Just to clear the air (and to stop people from asking me!!!!)
As this qualification regatta is not really a major race in the eyes of the governing body of sports in the country, because it is not like the SEA Games or the Asian Games, there is usually no funding put aside for such races. So it is up to the NSA to decide if they should use some of the funding that they have received to support me. When I was told by my NSA that they cannot afford to support my overseas training in Sydney, I was not surprised. I totally understand the situation that my NSA is facing having been in the sport for 11 (omg) years. It used to be a case where my NSA does not have enough funding to send athletes overseas to train or race so we end up just not going. But because I like to think that I’m pretty determined, I choose to not let money get in the way of my dreams. That’s why 2013 happened and it clearly showed that if I changed the way things work, results will change as well.
So, this Olympic journey that I am in right now, being here in Sydney and all that, I am fully supporting myself with my own savings, whatever I have left from my earnings. Some of it is also donated by some amazing people who believe in me- which I am so, so, so thankful for. The total amount that I have is definitely not enough to last me in Sydney till April when I leave for the qualification. It does not even include payment for my coach so yes, my coach has been volunteering to coach me. I cannot work in Sydney because my visa does not allow me to do so. At the recent Asian Championship, everything was paid for by the NSA (thank you, SRA). Because another coach was in Singapore at that point of time, they have decided to send him instead. I was unhappy initially that they decided not to send my coach from Sydney but eventually I was okay with it because it is not within my job scope as an athlete to decide which coach the NSA sends. Life goes on, man.
Any post on the “lack of funding” issue that I put on social media seem to always attract problems. I honestly don’t see why. It is the truth that rowing doesn’t get much funding. What is wrong with saying that? Doesn’t everyone already know that? Or maybe they don’t. Now they do. So what if they do? Now that people know that athletes like me don’t really get paid, should they be more open to helping us? If we want to see changes, we gotta be the change, right? (Thank you, Ghandi, for such an inspiring message.) Whose ass are we trying to cover here by hiding the cold, hard truth that some sports are just poor? If potential athletes are turned off to join a sport because the NSA is poor, then they shouldn’t be called athletes because you do sports for the love of it, not for the money.
But if you want to put “foreign athletes” into the problem, then that is another story altogether.
Yes, life is unfair. But I think we have to learn to deal with it. It is unfortunate that the sport that I am truly in love with isn’t one of the “richer” sports but that doesn’t mean I can’t be in the Olympics because of that. The journey to the Games is definitely gonna be harder. But when I get there, it is gonna be so much more worth.
So, my post stays as it is, thank you.
My heats went well. I came in second behind the Chinese (who recently won a Bronze at the World Champs which is a pretty big deal) and won the Uzbekistani and Malaysian girls. That made me qualify for the finals straight away.
My finals wasn’t so good. I was too affected by the things I didn’t have- my oars, my coach, recent race experiences and it made me lose focus on the things I had- my big arms, my strong legs, my heart and my soul. I rowed terribly, I might as well have not rowed at all and given the spot to another rower who would actually row. Wtf was I doing? I don’t even know.
I was disappointed. I came in last in the finals. Sometimes when I lose a fight, I feel like I’m not good enough but when I lost that day, I didn’t feel like that. I know I’m good enough. Hell, I know I’m bloody good. But on that day, the only person that stopped me from performing was myself. I am my greatest enemy and I still have not been able to overcome that. Losing at the Asian Champs didn’t worry me though. It wasn’t like the situation I faced in March where I was last and my world seemed like a dark, awful place to be in and I was just permanently unhappy. This is different. When I got out of the boat after the finals, all I wanted to do was to get my ass back in Sydney and train. Training will be hard, fckg hard, it might tear me, destroy me, kill me, but I am prepared. In fact, I am stoked to know that I’m probably gonna hate training and die from training as long as I get faster, fitter and stronger for the qualifications.
You might be wondering whether the 2013 SEA Games was a one hit wonder kind of thing and you question whether training in Sydney is still making me fast. All I can say is that, sometimes you just gotta believe. Like how do I know if I’m actually good enough for this Olympics dreams even after the disappointment in the Asian Games in 2014 and then the Bronze medal in the SEA Games in June. Well, I just believe that I’m good enough to qualify.
Despite my NSA not being able to support my dreams financially, I am thankful that they have funded my trip to Beijing. Although our results were disappointing, every regatta teaches us important lessons. Maybe NSAs should start learning from regattas too? #justsayin
So, the plan now is to continue to train and race in Sydney. The racing season here is just starting which fits in perfectly with my plans. And if I don’t get enough funding (oh, I’m starting to hate this word already), whether from the governing body or the NSA, I shall look into other sources like crowdfunding and sponsorship, for example.
And if I happen to get into trouble for saying all these things, please enlighten me why.
All I want to do is to get my ass in the Olympics.
It is a selfish dream, really. But you know what? I know that if I do get to Rio and even Tokyo in 2020 (InsyaAllah) at least Rowing won’t be small and poor anymore. That’s for sure.
And the dreamers in the world become doers. And when people do things, the world changes.
Again, I will remind you what Macklemore said,
"You put the work in, don’t worry about the praise, my love
Don’t try to change the world, find something that you love
And do it every day
Do that for the rest of your life
And eventually, the world will change"
Believe, I say. Just believe.