Sponsorship and Support

Sponsorship and Support

The time for me to bid goodbye to my sponsors has come. I wasn’t looking forward to this but I know that one day it has to be done. Like how I can’t live as an athlete forever, I cannot be sponsored all my life.

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of stories like these many times, on how people propose their ideas to companies and get turned down, rejected, dissed, and all the other hurtful things you can possibly think of but they go on to continue proposing their ideas to other companies anyway because they believed in themselves so much. That was pretty much my story when I went out to look for sponsors for the first time. Guys, you have absolutely no idea how much it hurts to get rejected, to get people telling you that you’re not good enough, or the worst excuses companies have given to me is: We don’t sponsor rowers, like being a rower is some kind of a race you don’t even want to have to ever deal with in your life. How is it that saying, “I won’t sponsor you cuz you’re Malay” is NOT okay but saying, “I won’t sponsor you because you’re a rower” is okay? HOW IS THAT EVEN..

okay. I’m cool. But yea, you get shit like this, and it’s a matter of how much you can take it and how far you’re willing to go.

Of course, it wasn’t a case of, oh I got rejected but I will stay strong because I know I’m awesome and I go on to find other sponsors. It was more like, reads email, cries to ex-bf like someone just died, hates life, hates company, hates rowing, moody for the next few days, reminds myself that IT IS OKAY IF THAT COMPANY DOESN’T SPONSOR ME BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THAT COMPANY ANY WAY IF THEY SAY THOSE THINGS TO ME and move on. I still have all the rejection letters I received. They are still as heartbreaking as when I read them for the first time.

And it was even harder then, when I was rowing, because I knew that I needed their help desperately. I used to run at least 10km everyday (yes, everyday) and I wore the same running shoe for two years or something like that because I couldn’t afford another pair, and I wanted the same brand and model because I tried other shoes and they were just not as comfortable. I know beggars can’t be choosers but when you need to run for an hour each day, you don’t want to run with a pain on the shin or the knee. I grew more muscles and couldn’t fit in my sports bras and I couldn’t afford new sports bras because in case some of you didn’t know, sports bras are ridiculously expensive for something with so little material.

I was desperate for help, to the extent that I went online and asked my friends if they can donate their used stuff like sports bras and shoes (which hasn’t reached the distance limit) and some cycling gear because the only one I owned then was passed down to me from Dinah Chan, a former national cyclist. It was so embarrassing to ask for help like that, but some things just need to be done. But I’m so grateful to have amazing friends/support. I guess sponsorship doesn’t have to come from companies or organisations that always want something in return for the stuff they give you. It can also be your friends who just want to see you succeed.

First it was letting go of Herbalife. Herbalife was the first company to provide me with monetary sponsorship to fund my training. On top of that, they provided me with the added nutrition I required when I was gaining muscles. I wasn’t really a fan of supplements but when I was training 2-3 times a day, sometimes my daily caloric intake and the amount of protein I have to consume from normal food isn’t enough to meet the recommended amount. I didn’t think I would ever live the day to say that but it’s true! Of course Herblaife 24 is WADA approved. One of the things I missed most about being Herbalife’s sponsored athlete is the amount of support I get from the members. They are legit crazy- in a good way. All in all, like how a gym is different from a fitness centre, going into a nutritional change is different from a diet. And the support you get from the people around you are so important and being part of the Herbalife family gave me that emotional support. So thank you, Herbalife.

Secondly, Under Armour. The story of UA is a tricky one. They first sponsored me in 2014 after my 2013 SEA Games Gold medal win and they stopped a year after. I was one of the first few athletes being sponsored by them when they opened their flagship store in Singapore. The other athletes were the Rugby Men’s team and MMA fighter Royston Wee. From what I know, UA was perceived (and still is) to be more male-centric (which is so not true because have you seen the ladies range? They are gorgeous!). But when it was first brought over to South-East Asia, the ladies range wasn’t as much probably because of the lack of demand amongst female customers. But I was constantly overseas training and I couldn’t participate in their events in Singapore, my only presence was on social media and also, I wasn’t performing. I came in last in the Asian Games and they didn’t really give me a concrete reason why they discontinued the sponsorship, but they did. Of course I was sad.

After the Rio Olympic Games, they sponsored me again, and being a more established company, more so than the it first started in Singapore, with more support staff, more experience in managing athletes, the collaboration between me and UA was much better. Despite the fact that I was being honest with them that I will not be competing this year but another Olympics is still my goal. Despite the fact that I was constantly overseas not to train but “finding myself” (I hate that term btw but that’s the easiest way to put the phase I want through). They supported me with all these cool gear, as a way of appreciating me for all that I’ve put in for the nation.

I like that idea of companies coming forward to extend their appreciation to fellow athletes and understand how much we have put in to our sport, and representing the country. I think as much as companies have the “higher power” of having the products and resources to give to the athletes, I don’t think its necessary to have this superior-inferior situation going on and worse, I don’t think it is right for a company to “use” the athlete. Of course it is of the company’s objective to leverage on the athlete’s circle of network to reach to a greater amount of audience but I think what is given to the athlete has to be a fair amount.

That is why, having a contract that both parties agree to is of utmost importance and to all athletes out there, READ THE CONTRACT THOROUGHLY BEFORE SIGNING. If there is something that you as an athlete is unhappy about, or uncomfortable about, if you think you have to do so much just to get like a week of free pass for a service which you feel isn’t fair, DISCUSS IT WITH THE COMPANY. Never ever just nod and agree to something you’re not comfortable with because THIS IS YOUR LIFE and you should 100% take ownership of how to run it.

Always reach out to a trusted friend who knows how to deal stuff like this (or reach out to me, if you need a second opinion on things). There are plenty of management companies out there but again, READ THEIR TERMS AND CONDITIONS CAREFULLY. Not everyone in the world is nice and kind and as much as they want the best for you, they always want the best for themselves too.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t trust everyone. Wait, I am exactly saying that. DON’T EVER ALLOW ANYONE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOU. (And taking advantage doesn’t have to be physically or sexually, if you know what I mean.) Know your own value and fight for yourself.

Wow, I feel like I can write a book on this.

I need to get back to my sponsorship stories.

My partnership with UA has been amazing. And I am grateful to have been sponsored by one of the coolest sporting companies!

4Fingers was one of the best yet rarest form of sponsorship I had. They sponsored me financially after I qualified for the Olympics and funded my journey towards the Games and even beyond that. They wanted nothing in return, they didn’t need me to put up any post on my social media, they just wanted to reward me for my efforts in being Singapore’s first Olympic rower and that is so unheard of- I was just really lucky.

In 2017, I was lucky to have ASICS as my apparel sponsor. This was a dream come true for me. I can have all the Kayanos in the world. There was a slight problem being sponsored by ASICS because I wasn’t a runner. I mean, I run alot but not at the level where the real runners run. So sometimes I do get their very light legit racing shoes, which I will never know when to use because to me, #Kayanosare4lyfe. I trained and race in my Kayanos. But of course, for a real runner, that isn’t the case. Problematic or not, I was blessed. I enjoyed working with ASICS and was grateful to be part of their family.

There were other companies that came forward to support my journey- Specialized, Recovery Systems, TriEdge, Suunto, FitLine, Oakley, Olympus, Again Faster, G1RYA, Gruppo Gamma and Picasso. Whether it’s giving me free products or services, they all made a difference to my life and I am grateful to all of them. I know I haven’t been the best ambassador to some companies because some of you must be thinking like, was she even sponsored by that company? (Also, know the difference between being sponsored and being supported- THEY ARE VERY DIFFERENT. Just because a company gives you free stuff doesn’t necessarily mean you are sponsored.) But I wasn’t taught to be a sponsored athlete, there was no guidebook on how to be one and I didn’t had a manager when I got my first sponsorship. It just happened and I have to learn along the way.

That is why I started the YouTube/Podcast channel: SportsGalaShow was because I wanted to share my stories on sponsorships, tell you all my mistakes I’ve made that you, if you’re a sponsored athlete, can avoid and hear how other athletes get their gigs as well. I think there’s many ways how athletes can get the support they deserve and what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for another athlete. But, to be honest, I got lazy with the shows. I still have lots of interviews I haven’t edited yet and I have said this a million times that I’ll get my ass on it but I haven’t had the motivation to do so and I don’t want to go back at it again half-heartedly. If I wanna do it, I should go all the way. So it will SportsGalaShow v2 will be DEFINITELY be re-launched but not anytime soon because I have learnt to prioritise (I think).

THIS IS SUCH A LONG POST. For those of you who made it this far, thank you. Tell me if this has some useful piece of info for you. I would love to write more on this issue because I feel that it is such a taboo in Singapore, I don’t know why.

But just a note to those out there who thinks you need sponsorship to reach your dreams- here’s the truth, you don’t. Sponsorship may come in handy in helping you lift your burden off certain stuff like financial matters so that you can focus 100% on training but even if you’re not a sponsored athlete, you have every right to chase after your dreams.

Anyway, for all the support that I’ve ever received in my athletic journey, whether through sponsorship, crowdfunding or even just a message you sent me cheering me on, THANK YOU.

I will forever be grateful.

#teamaisyah 4lyfe. x

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