01 May Because dreams really do come true;
It has been a week since Korea happened. I am still over the moon about the achievement I’ve made in Korea. It hasn’t sunk in me yet that I have actually qualified to be in the Olympics. Even saying it out aloud makes my heart still jump in disbelief. Is this really true?
The buzz of this whole thing isn’t as big as it was for the SEA Games, only because I was in Korea alone with AB (my coach). I was in fact the only Singaporean at the regatta, none of the officials were Singaporean too. So most of the celebration was online. My FB went crazy the moment Razemin (one of the Singapore Rowing Association’s committee members) posted the news confirming that I have won my Final B and have qualified the country for the Olympics. Even after the regatta, I went back to Sydney and not back home, only because training has to go on and ultimately, the Olympics is only 4 months away. Maybe the celebration can begin when I come home from Rio in August, when I am officially declared an Olympian (there, my heart going crazy again at the thought of this). Or maybe the most important celebration is the one I share with God, where I thank Him again and again for bringing me where I am today- for everything that He has given me, even the crazy challenges He has put me through. I guess what they said was right,“If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.”
Here’s my attempt to keeping my story of Korea and this crazy little dream of mine as short and sweet as possible:
The first few days in Korea were actually going great. I feel super-fast during training and it felt really good. I knew then that everything will be okay. I did a daily reflection in my diary and every single night I reminded myself, “I’ve got this. I’VE GOT THIS.”. It was towards the last 2 days of the first race when I suddenly felt tired. I tried to keep everything I did exactly the same as to the previous days- and I’m not kidding about beingEXACTLYthe same. I woke up at the same time every morning for fajr, eat the same thing for breakfast (down to the specifics like the same number of scoops of scrambled eggs, same number of ketchup on my eggs, and same number of toast). I made sure I went to the bathroom to clean my bowels around the same time, did the exact same things after training, where I showered, did my laundry, have lunch, nap for exactly 30mins (nothing more or else I’m gonna regret the grogginess) and prepare for the afternoon training session. After training, AB and I would have dinner and then walk for around 20mins or so to the nearest supermarket. This was the exact same routine which went on for a whole week. Any longer than a week, I would have gotten bored and wanted to get it done and over with- which isn’t the ideal mindset that I would want to be racing in. So thankfully, my coach has perfectly timed the period of our arrival to the first day of racing so that I had sufficient time to recover from being jet lagged (although Korea was only 1hr apart, I have a major case of jet lag HAHA) and acclimatize to Korea’s strange weather of being chilly one morning and bloody hot the next morning, which again I am lucky that Sydney’s weather is as confused as Korea’s so I am pretty much used to Mother Nature’s fickle-mindedness.
I have to admit that in my 11 years of rowing, I have never been so stressed about racing. It was actually so stressful that I have a pimple breakout which last I remembered having one this bad was when I was burning the midnight oil for the end-term papers in my final year in uni 6 years ago.
Although I did a PB of 7:44mins, the conditions were pretty fast that day but I have to admit, the racing was pretty awful. The top 2 rowers would qualify for the semis and the remaining 3 to the repercharge. I came in 3rd. After the race, while I was doing reflections with AB, I was honest to him when I told him that I didn’t fight when the Iranian rowed past me- “maybe I didn’t want it bad enough,” I said, which was the stupidest thing an athlete would ever say to a coach, what more one who is fighting her ass to be a fkg Olympian. Of course, he got mad and he said, “If you didn’t want it bad enough, what are we even fkg doing here?” He was right. What the hell was wrong with me?
To qualify for the semis, I had to come in the top 3 positions. I came in 1st, thinking about how much I wanted it.
I was up against 3 fastest rowers in Asia (I reckon) and the top 3 rowers will qualify for Final A. Basically when you qualify for Final A, you’re in the Olympics. I remembered finishing the race feeling spent, coming out of the boat knowing that I have given it all. I left with no regrets. The timing wasn’t spectacular; the racing wasn’t great, but I wasn’t distraught (not until I reached back in the hotel room, soaked myself in a tub of cold water and cried my eyes out). I finished 4th and had less than a day to recover before the Final B.
I was extremely tired. I remembered telling AB that I was absolutely spent and asked him if I should take a rest for the afternoon. But he advised against it as we had a routine going and we shouldn’t change it, especially since it was only one more race to go. I didn’t wince. I needed to row anyway. It has reached that stage where I would actually feel lethargic if I didn’t row. It was as though being on the boat gave me energy. I liked that.
I couldn’t sleep on the night before the finals. I wanted to win, so fkg bad. I wanted it so much. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The aim was to get the best position I can achieve.
For the past 3 days that led up to this Finals day, I went into every race feeling nervous. That is, of course, pretty normal. On the last day of racing, I was nervous AF but I was also pretty excited. I wasn’t looking forward to finishing the race but I was excited to start it. I knew this very well cuz AB asked me like how he did before every race, “how are you feeling?” and usually I’ll answer with an “Okay” or “good” but on Finals day, I said, “EXCITED” and I meant it.
I have been training my mental strength with my mental skills coach, Uncle Bay, since February. I have always thought that mental skills was something you think about on the night before a race and then you apply it during race day. I never knew that like any other training we do, we require time and practice to build up our mental strength. Uncle Bay has shared with me various strategies to become a better, mentally stronger athlete. One of the many skills that he has shared with me was something WE ALL KNOW! That is the crazy thing about the strategies I have picked up from Uncle Bay- I have heard of these techniques before, maybe it was one of those things my coaches have possibly said to me, or I am pretty certain I have read about it somewhere in one of the biographies that I’ve been reading. These skills are nothing new or out of this world. That is the beauty of mental skills training- it is fkg simple.
So I used to have this problem of performance anxiety, they call it. I can’t deny that it is a problem because if I train fkg hard and then when it comes to the point where I have to perform and I start to choke and I can’t deliver the results, and my job is basically to race and win and I can’t do that one thing I am supposed to do, then THAT IS A PROBLEM, isn’t it?
So, the solution is pretty simple. Yeah, let go of expectations, don’t think about the results or the outcome, ENJOY THE PROCESS, they tell me. Yeah, easy. It is like telling a rower, go into that boat, row and win. EASY.
That "enjoying the process" bit was in fact one of the most challenging things I had to learn to do. But once I actually understood the whole concept of letting go and enjoying the whole journey,I have been waking up every single day feeling like it is the best day ever, even if things don’t go my way.
To NOT think about the results was something I thought was impossible. I mean, you’re there for one sole purpose- to qualify for the Olympics. How can you possibly NOT think about that???
Every coach will come and tell you the same thing, over and over again-control the controllable. Focus on what you’re supposed to do at that very point in time. So when I needed to do my warm up, I thought about JUST THE WARM UP,nothing else. It took me quite a while (i.e. a few months) to master the art of refocusing and regrouping or AKA “not giving a shit about everything else and just do what you’re supposed to do”, and I must say I still need a lot more training for this but it has helped me heaps. HEAPS, I tell you.
So, during the race, all I remembered thinking about was, “legs, legs, legs, legs” Throughout the whole 7:53mins of that race, I was just thinking about legs.
I remembered seeing the Thai rower (who came in 2nd) picking up her pace towards the last 250m of the race and I tried to pick up my speed too but my legs were just throwing curses at me. I remembered hearing the finish beep and everything was so bright. And then that was when I started to feel the pain on the legs. OMFG. In my 11 years as a rower, out of the possible 650 odd races that I’ve done, I don’t remember my legs feeling like that. It wasn’t a burn, wasn’t a pinch. It was just the most excruciating feeling ever. All those times someone has come up to tell you that when you give it your all during a race, you will finish it feeling amazing-THEY ARE ALL LYING TO YOU. The feeling was just pure, immense pain. Uncomfortable, awful and filthy disgusting.
I didn’t even know I crossed the line first until the rescue boat came towards me to tell me to proceed to the winner’s pontoon. The last time this happened, I was in Myanmar for the 2013 SEA Games. The last time this happened, I was a SEA Games champion.Now, I qualified for the Olympics.
If there was one thing I learnt from this whole experience, it was the fact that you gotta fkg believe that you can do it- there is absolutely no other way around it. I can have a billion people supporting me and believing in me but if I didn’t believe in myself, I couldn’t have made it. A wise person once told me,“If you went into a race not believing that you can win it, you will never win it.”
Of course, the support from the people around me has been nothing short of amazing. From my generosity of my employers granting my this crazy long no-pay leave, to my colleagues passing me a few thousand dollars worth of cash for my expenses in Sydney, to the Christmas wish list I posted way back in December and getting a new pair of shoes, cycling gear and heaps of pretty sports bra from a bunch of generous individuals, to every single beautiful soul who has contributed to the crowdfunding site that I set up a few months ago when I ran out of money in Sydney which hit 130% of my target, to the real heroes- those who took their time off their busy schedule answering to my incessant WhatsApp messages asking for help in so many matters, to these CRAZY AMAZING people in Sydney who go out at lengths to help me as much as they possibly can.This whole journey has brought me to realise how beautiful this world can be and what beauty and amazing things that can happen if you put your heart and soul into something that you truly love and believe in.X