How did taking a semester off University feel like

Swim Finals 4_2015-06-09_Photo by Adrian Seetho_033

Contrary to popular belief, I always believe that we should always chase our dreams, even if sacrifices have to be made – Because what’s the point of living life normally when we have a chance to be extraordinary? That was why with the 28th SEA Games that was going to be held in Singapore, I decided to take a semester off school to go full time swimming for that period of time. It was a big leap of faith because that would mean that when my course mates graduate, I’ll be stuck with one more semester left in school. I will definitely feel a little left out when I see all of them graduate before me but that’s the price to pay if I want to achieve my goals. I always believe that in life, we only get one chance in everything, so might as well make full use of it, right?

mr mak and sheng jun-2

Back in the days when I’m still in the Singapore Sports School, my dean (Mr Raymond Mak) told me something that I remember vividly up to this day:

“Sheng Jun, always remember this – studies can wait, but sports can’t. Some day when you grow old you’re going to realize that you just aren’t as fit as you will be as compared to your teenage years, so treasure this opportunity and work wholeheartedly towards your sporting goals, don’t leave any room for regret. Also, don’t worry about falling back a little on academics, because it’s never too old to study after you’ve achieved your sporting goals.” 

His words really inspired me back in my secondary school days and that really changed my mindset of swimming. From that day on I started to set goals which I wanted to achieve in swimming and nothing stopped me from chasing my goals.

This included taking a semester off school to go full time swimming for a few months, and trust me it paid off. If you’re ever thinking about sacrificing studies to chase your dreams, I’m here to give you my experience and hope it would give you a clearer idea on your decision.


To give you a really brief summary, my usual routine when I’m juggling both swimming and studies would be to wake up at 4:45am, go for morning training from 5:30am – 7am, have breakfast while driving to school, have school from 8:30am – 2pm, rush home for a quick 45minute nap, afternoon training from 4pm – 7pm, dinner at about 7:45pm, followed by having some recreational time then sleep at 10:30pm. It’s honestly quite a hectic schedule to adhere to as I don’t have much social time with my family and friends and I’d be really tired and groggy most of time.

However, with a semester off, I was able to convert all that free time… TO NAP TIME. & I kid you not, that made a whole lot of difference. Instead of the usual 45 minute naps, I was able to sleep for about 3 hours after morning training (which is 2 full sleep cycles!), and that made a lot of difference. I was also able to spend more social time with my family and friends and that made me a happier person in general. I was more refreshed for the training sessions as my recovery rate was much faster due to the crazy naps that I take, and of course I was less groggy. 

Another factor was that competitions in Singapore are always held during the holiday period so that school doesn’t interrupt with the competitions, but here’s the thing – Since it’s right after our semester ends, it would mean that our exams just ended, which also means that most of us are really brain dead from all the mugging and late nights leading up to those semester exams, and that would definitely cost us a little during race day as staying up late does harm the body to a certain extent especially when recovery is key leading up to competitions.

I was checking the schedule for my semester and my final exam paper would be 3 weeks before the SEA Games, and I honestly didn’t want it to risk affecting my performance during the SEA Games, so I decided to just take the semester off. Therefore, I had no exam stress and I was pretty much carefree leading up to the SEA Games.

I have to say that my classmates were really encouraging too! They were complaining how tough the semester was and how they were having weekly examinations (what?!) so they were constantly rushing assignment deadlines and studying for exams simultaneously. So I was really glad I wasn’t experiencing those as it would definitely affect my preparation towards SEA Games.

Swim Finals 4_2015-06-09_Photo by Adrian Seetho_044

When SEA Games came, I knew that I was ready to do well as I have prepared myself to the best of my ability, and nothing could have gone better leading up to it. If you’re wondering if there was added pressure to perform well, I can honestly say there was, but I took it positively and didn’t let it affect me.

Swim Finals 4_2015-06-09_Photo by Adrian Seetho_046

I still remember right before my 400m Freestyle finals, Mr Mak sent me a text message saying, “Sheng Jun! All the best for your 400m Freestyle tonight. My family and I are all behind you for your race.” That really touched my heart as I never thought that he would still keep up with my swimming progress up to date. I wasn’t exactly the best student back in my secondary school days, so for him to still remember me after so many years really motivated me to do well in my race.

Swim Finals_2015-06-011_Photo by Adrian Seetho-70

I swam my heart out in the last race of the meet and came in 3rd place behind Welson Sim (MAS) and Jessie Lacuna (PHI). Although I didn’t win the race, I raced to the best of my ability and I was happy that I achieved a personal best time in the race.

Swim Finals 4_2015-06-09_Photo by Adrian Seetho_051

So my SEA Games ended with 1 Gold, 1 Silver, and 1 Bronze medal – Something that I’ve never achieved in my previous 3 editions of SEA Games, so all the hard work and sacrifice has definitely paid off.

Overall, I would say that taking a semester off school has definitely made a difference in my performance in the recent SEA Games. Taking a leap of faith has definitely paid off and I have no regrets taking a semester off to work towards my goals. Honestly speaking, it was an unforgettable experience that will stay with me for a lifetime.

Do I feel sad that I’m going to graduate later than my course mates?
It hasn’t really hit me yet, but I think I will be sad when I see them all leave the school.

But was the sacrifice worth it?

Swim Finals_2015-06-011_Photo by Adrian Seetho-51

Don’t be afraid to take the leap of faith, because success comes when you’re willing to take the first step. I hope my life experience will motivate you to strive towards your goals! 🙂

P.S For those of you that don’t know, I’ll be giving my Singapore swim cap to 1 lucky winner! For more details do check out my Instagram page at about 7:30pm today.


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