Why every bad race isn’t always a bad experience

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Everyone’s got their fair share of bad races in swimming, and it’s really impossible to name a swimmer who hasn’t had one. Personally, I’m someone who always finds the positive in every negative situation, even though things might not go my way sometimes.

The Singapore National Age Group Swimming Championships (SNAG) just happened last week so I’ll be sharing about how the bad races I had were actually great experiences. 

DISCLAIMER: This is going to be yet another long blog post about my experience, so it would take about 10-15 minutes of your reading time. If you’re in a rush for time I’d suggest you come back and read it again another time. 

So the SNAG’s probably the most important meet of the year for Singaporean swimmers, as it serves as the ONLY local competition to qualify for the Olympics this year in Rio. So simply speaking, it is a make or break meet. The Olympic dream is common in many of us in the National team, because Olympics the most prestigious event any swimmer can ever take part in in their sporting career.

Leading up to the SNAG, I’ve had the most solid preparation I’ve could have ever asked for; I did pace times which I’ve never thought that I would ever achieve them in my life and I was even surprising myself on how fast I could actually go. It’s those kinda swimming times that make you go “Ah, I’ve got SNAG in the bag.” Even my coaches were really happy with the progress I’ve made ever since SEA Games ended last year. 

With such good preparation, I was really excited to swim the SNAG. However, shit happens sometimes and to cut the story short, I caught a stomach flu right smack before SNAG. In summary, I did 0 personal best times this meet, even when I had the best preparation leading up toward it. I even took lesser modules in school so that I could prepare wholeheartedly for this trials. It obviously does not feel good, knowing that all your hard work over the months has gone down the drain just because you caught a little bug. 


But today I will not be crying over how unlucky I was to have caught this virus during the week of SNAG. Instead, I’ll be talking about the positive experiences I’ve had for this meet, even though it may seem like a negative one. This is my story: 

Having a stomach flu is an unpleasant feeling – Apart from the tummy aches, it makes you weak, disrupts your sleep, sends shivers down your spine for no apparent reason, and makes you sweat profusely, even when you’re not doing much. 

I still remember 2 days before my race, I had to take a day off the pool just to make sure that I get rid of the virus fully. Although I spent most of my time resting in bed, I had to wake up several times for obvious reasons. It came to a point that it got so frustrating because at the night that I was supposed to be resting and recovering, I literally woke up at 1am, 3am, 5am, 7am, and finally 9am where I just couldn’t fall asleep anymore. I got up of bed a little lethargic and when I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t believe how heavy my eye-bags were, despite sleeping for almost 10 hours, but I just shook it off and hydrated as much as I could. 

I think what made me feel a lot better were the texts received from my coaches and friends, who were really concern about how I was doing. “Great!” I replied, even though I was feeling a little weak that day, but I know that positive self-talk goes a long way to in the road to recovery. I have to give credit to my mum, as she made me the positive person I am today with the different lessons that she’s constantly teaching me in my life. 

“Sheng Jun, I know you’re feeling unwell, I can see it from your face, but in times like these, you still have to learn to stay positive, and put your faith in God. Look at those people living with Cancer, if they didn’t fight for their lives, do you think that they could have won the battle against cancer? Obviously not. So you’re going to fight through this sickness, and give your best shot in 2 days time. I know you can do it.” After listening to her, I felt really inspired to give it my all for the race coming up.  

So time passed and I seized every opportunity I could to get as much rest as possible, and prepared my best before race day. 

When race day came, I woke up feeling dizzy and a little weak but I knew it was ok because it was just preliminaries, so all I needed was to give a swim good enough to secure myself a spot in the finals. I took quite a bit of effort in completing my preliminary race, but I was glad to advance to the finals. 

I went back home and tried to get as much rest as possible. But as usual, I woke up after an hour of sleep with my blanket feeling a little moist due to the profuse sweating. I just shook off that feeling and decided to read and keep my mind off how my body was feeling that day. 

Before we left house I opened up to my mum and dad about how I was really feeling. Mum, dad, before tonight’s race, I would like to thank you all for all the constant support you’ve given me throughout the many years of my swimming career. I’m sorry that I fell sick this time around, but I will still do my best and leave everything in the pool tonight.” 

“Son, whether you swim well tonight, or not, dad just wants you to be happy. So what I want you to do tonight is to go out there, and race your heart out. No matter what the results are, dad will always be supporting you, so go out there, and enjoy yourself, because dad is already proud of what you have achieved in this sport, so don’t feel any less of yourself.” I felt a huge load going off my shoulders after what my dad said, and all I wanted to do was just to race my heart out and see how things would pan out. 

I got to the pool and started stretching. As usual, the sweat started breaking out again, but I ignored it and just stuck to my normal routine. By the time my normal stretching ended, my shirt was pretty damp due to all the sweating. I got in to do my warm up, and got up a little dizzy after I was done warming up. What was most ridiculous was that when I got up to suit up to my competition suit, my legs were shivering when I was trying to pull my suit up, which has never happened in my whole swimming career. So you can roughly imagine how weak my immune system was then.


But I knew nothing could be done to change the fact that I was sick, so I’ll just do my best and control what I can, which is to stick to my race plan. Before leaving for the reporting area, I gave my phone one last glance. “This swim is for you, mum and dad.” I dropped my phone in my bag, and left for the reporting area with a smile on my face. 


As I getting onto the starting blocks, I could hear my coaches and teammates from both sides cheering for me, and that spurred me on to give my best shot, even when I was at my lowest. 

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White lips… Pale Face.. Breathing in snow flakes… 

I gotta say that this was hands down the most painful 400IM race that I have ever swam in my entire life. I remember feeling a sharp pain in my head going into the last 100m of the race, but the end was near so I kept my head down to finish the race, and I left every ounce of energy I had in the pool.  

I swam a 4:26.40, a second lifetime best, just behind my 2015 SEA Games time of 4:24.80. To be honest, this was a pretty solid time considering the circumstances I’ve been through, so I’m really happy with the outcome of the race. 

I feel that the biggest takeaway from this SNAG was neither about the times I did, nor how shitty I felt during that week. Rather, it was about experiencing a different kind of happiness; knowing that everyone still believed in me and still stood by me during this really tough week. It is when I’m at my lowest, that I embraced all the care and concerns which I was receiving. I felt an even stronger bond between my parents and realizing how much they really care for me, makes me really thankful for this experience.  

To all the people that cheered me on during my race, here’s a big THANK YOU to you all, because without the support from each and everyone of you, I think I wouldn’t have been able to achieve a second life time best time in my race. 🙂

It’s really a nice feeling knowing that no matter what the outcome is, my parents will always be happy to be part of my swimming journey. I’ve always had the misconception that doing well = making my parents happy, but that is actually not the case. In reality, parents are actually just happy to be able to be together with their children on their various grueling journeys.

It was also really a whole new racing experience this time around because as a competitive swimmer, I’ve always been the confident one during competitions, my parents kinda left me to do what I needed to get in the zone because racing for more than 15 years in my life, it was pretty much second nature to me. However, this time around, we kinda switched roles and they really gave me the strength and confidence to stay positive and do my best.

So all in all, even though the SNAG has been a totally different experience for me, it was still a happy one. Always remember that no matter how negative or how tough a situation might be, there will always be positives in it. And if we can channel our focus into the positives instead of the negatives, we will lead a happier life.

However, don’t fully ignore the negatives aspects of the situation. Instead, learn from what went wrong, and make sure that the same mistakes don’t happen again in the future. 

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My quest to chasing the Olympic dream may have slowed down a little, but it will not stop me from working hard. 


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