In life, it’s all about perspective

Even though the Singapore National Swimming Championships just ended a few days ago (AND CHRISTMAS IS COMING TOO!!!!!), we are already starting our next phase of training.

Presenting to you… “The Final Push” before Christmas:

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But like I’ve always mentioned before, in life, it’s always about perspective; you can always see things in a positive or negative light. For example, what I can see from this training schedule is that we have single sessions for both Wednesday and Thursday, plus a full day off on Friday!

This means we are actually getting the best of both worlds:
1) We still get to spend time with family and friends on Christmas
2) We still get to maintain our form during this festive season.

So how awesome is that? So guys, remember, it’s all about seeing things from the positive point of view, you’ll be much happier that way.

For me, I personally do feel a little restless and itchy when I miss a training session as I feel that I lose out if I skip a session (typical kiasu Singaporean), but hey, it works well in swimming so I ain’t complaining.

So with 6 sessions coming up for us next week, I no longer have to worry about losing my water feel and enjoy my Christmas celebration wholeheartedly!

I’ll be leaving for USA on 26th of December for a training camp with some of the senior swimmers leading up to our Olympic qualifiers in March next year. and I’m sure this trip will benefit all of us as we will be training full time without having any distractions back at home.

And yes, I’ve received quite a number of questions…

“OMG you’ll be missing new years!”
“Wow one day after Christmas, how do you feel about that?” 
“Do you feel sad that you’ll be away from your family during this period of time?” 

So long story short, I’ll be training leading up to Christmas, and a day after Christmas, I’ll be leaving for a training camp in USA.

To be honest, I would be lying if I said that I’m not sad at all. It is indeed a sad feeling knowing that I’ll be missing time with family and friends during the new year.

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It’s always been a tradition every New Year’s Eve for my family to spend some time with Russell’s family, and I will usually then stay over at his place because it gets really late after the count down. We’ll usually have a lot of fun with games and countdown together for the New Year, but I guess it will not happen this year.

I was initially really sad that I was going to be away during this period. But I took sometime to reflect and think about it from another perspective, and I started to feel a lot better.

I started to visualize my Nationals coming up in March, and saw where I wanted my future self to be when the trials come, and that gave me a burning desire deep inside myself to work harder. I want to be at my fittest form leading up to the Nationals in March, so sacrifices have to be made to ensure that I’m in my best shape during Nationals.

I’ve spent 16 years of my life trying to chase my dream of being an Olympian, so missing a New Years Celebration to chase my lifetime dream would definitely be well worth it.

And of course, I’m really grateful for the support that is being given to us to ensure that all aspects of our swimming career are fully covered! We can now focus fully on just training hard day in and day out without worrying about anything else!

Times have really changed and I personally feel that a lot more support is given to elite sports now and Singapore is slowly climbing our way up the international stage.

Like what Joscelin Yeo (Former Olympian) told us before, since everything is put in place for us, it’s time for us to make full use of it. She didn’t have as much support as us in the past so I really treasure the support we are getting now and will definitely take full advantage of it.

For me, I honestly feel that if I want to bring myself to the next level, I’ll have to start doing what others aren’t willing to do, so that I’ll be a step ahead when the big day comes.

So all in all, even though I will miss my New Years’ Celebration, My future self will thank me for the hard work I’ve put in when trials come in March.

For now, it’s time to get back in the Grind!

 

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”
Abraham Lincoln

 

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Hard Work Pays Off

 

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How did taking a semester off University feel like

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?
Definitely.

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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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My post SEA Games 2015 Experience – Hard work has paid off

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With a blink of an eye, the 2015 SEA Games is over. I’m really having withdrawal symptoms now and I can’t believe that everything just flew by so quickly. It kinda feels like it was just yesterday that I was still 30 days away from SEA Games. Overall, competing in the 28th SEA Games in Singapore is by far the best competition experience of my life, and if I could turn back time, I would want to relive this moment again for sure.

The Singapore swimming team won a total of 23 Gold medals, surpassing the record of 21 Gold medals set many many years ago, and I feel really privilege to be part of this awesome team. This was by far the tightest team that I’ve been on and everyone has always had each others backs during the games, and that made a lot difference especially during the later days of the games when all of us were getting tired.

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I personally performed at my best during the 28th SEA Games, but I can honestly say that it wasn’t solely because my own hard work. I’ll have to credit my success to the endless amount of support from family, coaches, friends, supporters and sponsors. They were the ones that gave me the extra motivation to strive for greater results, and I couldn’t thank them enough.

I ended off my SEA Games with 1 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze medal – which is why some of my friends call me the rainbow boy. After 4 SEA Games, I was finally able to clinch an individual Silver and Bronze medal for Singapore. However, it’s not the medals that I will remember in the future, it’s the process of getting those medals which really mean a lot to me. To be honest, winning those medals were exceptionally hard for me because I had mental obstacles coming into this SEA Games – Being into 3 editions of the SEA Games, I’ve never won an individual medal at all, so I’ve kinda set mental obstacles that winning an individual medal was practically impossible for me.

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Thankfully, with the help of my coaches, parents and supporters, I was able to get out of that mental state and win individual medals for Singapore after 6 years of trying. You can read about my story on Yahoo news over here: Pang Sheng Jun ends wait for first individual SEA Games swimming medal

Of course, the process wasn’t easy, it took me quite a lot of courage and effort to get out of the ‘slump’ which I was in, and I am glad that I had a strong support group to get me out of my negative state.

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Coach Sergio knew that I was mentally weak due to my past experiences, so he had ways to help tackle my mental obstacles, he says that it’s ‘training me to become a man’. Here’s one of the most memorable experience I had during my training session:

“Alright guys, 6x100m warm down and we’re done. We leave on the top.” 

All of us put our goggles on and prepared to go.

“Not you, Pang, you stay right here.” 
“For you, 5x400IM on 5:45, you leave on the next top.” 

I started laughing because of how ridiculous it sounded.

“You think I’m joking? You’re leaving on the next top.” 

I laughed more because I still didn’t believe him.

“30 seconds…” 
“… WTF Sergio are you serious?!” At this point in time, I wasn’t smiling anymore.
“Yes of course, I told you I wasn’t joking, 10 more seconds…” 

I had no choice but to put my game phase on and start on my 5x400m set.

“Pang you done?” 
“…Yes” I was panting heavily after the set.

“Ok, 200IM all out, we’re leaving on the top, you have a minute rest.” 

I was dreading the set as I was already exhausted, but at that point of time I was too tired to even talk anymore so I just put my head down and gone for my 200IM all out.

Well guess what? I did pretty well in that all out effort. It was actually a personal best time for training and I just couldn’t believe what just happened. I even double checked the pace clock to see if Sergio was lying to me, but he wasn’t. It’s true that I actually set a personal best training time, and that was an amazing feeling.

This set really made me believe in what my body is truly capable of and it gave me so much more confidence for the SEA Games.

“Sergio, thank you so much for giving this set to me, though it was tiring, it was definitely worth it. I feel a lot more confident now, I know I’m capable of much more.”

“No worries Pang, you may think I’m picking on you, but I’m not. Trust me, I like you as a person, but I’m training you to become a man.” He winked at me.

So you can roughly imagine the training I was going through leading up to the SEA Games, and with that, I became a much tougher and confident person entering the games.

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The Games started off well when we won comfortably in the 4x200m Freestyle relay, whereby I teamed up with Joseph Schooling, Danny and Zheng Wen to win a Gold medal for Singapore. It definitely gave me a huge confidence boost after winning the Gold medal, but that still didn’t remove the fear of not winning in my individual event.

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The next event was the 400m Individual Medley, and if you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that that is the event which I dread most as the 400m IM is probably the most physically demanding event for any swimmer. We didn’t have to swim heats in the morning as it was straight finals, but I still went to warm up in the morning to prepare for finals which was in the evening.

I dived into the pool and I kid you not – I was feeling like a rock in the pool. It was legitimately the worse day of my swimming career and I just couldn’t feel my strokes properly. I didn’t know what I did wrong because I slept well the night before my race, and I basically did everything I could to be in the best shape but it didn’t seem to be working. At this point of time I got really desperate as nothing seemed to be going my way, so I did something which was really stupid – I got up on the blocks, dived, and did a 400IM for time.

My experience? I touched the wall with a time of 5 minutes 2 seconds (5:02) and I was exhausted. To give you an idea on how bad 5:02 is, I have a personal best time of 4:28 and I could easily hold 5×400 IMs on 5:02s on a good day, so you can imagine the amount of stress I was feeling at that point of time, I just couldn’t believe how much of a low my body was hitting.

I came up to the pool and told coach Gary about my situation.

“What should I do G? (Gary) I feel like shit, should I do some core? What do I do to get my form back? I am honestly lost now.”

Gary just told me to relax, warm down and get out of the pool.

I got out of the pool and went back up to the spectator stands. When Coach Sergio saw me, he immediately told me to see him.

“Pang, why the hell did you do a 400IM for time for? Did I ever tell you to do something like that before?”

“No coach… But I just wanted to get my water feel back.”

“And what, you think a 400IM for time is going to get you your feel back?! Why are you doing this?”

I then explained to him that I’ve never performed well in an individual event for SEA Games before, and I just couldn’t see myself doing it in the finals.

“You know what? If I could knee you right now, I would, but I don’t want to injure you before finals tonight. Let me tell you this, you are going to swim well in the finals tonight and you’re going to go below 4:25. If you don’t, I’m going to kick your a**, trust me.”

To go below 4:25 was more than 3 seconds of my personal best time, that was pretty hard to believe at that point in time.

“How many 400IMs have you done in training before? Doing a 200m IM all out for time and setting a personal best, did you feel like shit that time as well? You were still able to step it up isn’t it? So how is this 400IM different?” 

“You have to believe in yourself, stay the course, and do your best. Trust me you’re going to achieve great results.” 

After his lecture, it reminded me of the tough times I had during training and that gave me my confidence back for the finals.

“Sorry about that Sergio, you’ll watch me do well tonight.”

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The finals came and when my name was called, the stadium echoed with cheers that were for me. At that very moment, I felt a strong sense of National pride. All the negative thoughts just left my mind and all I wanted to do was to do all my fellow Singaporeans proud. With that amount of support that I was having, I just couldn’t let them down. This is our pool, our home, and I’m not giving up at the very last moment before my race.

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When I was swimming my finals, I could literally hear the stadium cheering for Zheng Wen and I. In my whole swimming career, I have never heard such loud cheers when I was swimming. Swimmers usually aren’t able to hear the cheers coming from the crowd as the sound of waves usually blocks any sound that is coming from the surroundings, but during my 400m race, the cheers from the crowd was so loud that I could even hear them when I was swimming in the water. That definitely gave me the edge when I was at the final stages of my race. Just to emphasize on how much of a difference it made, I had a strong surge of adrenaline coming into the last 100m of my race:

Your cheers really made the difference when it came to this race, and I’m glad that I was able to win my first individual medal after 6 years of training.

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Words can’t describe how I was feeling at this point in time, it was a strong mix of emotions – I was relieved that I finally won an individual medal for Singapore, and with the scoreboard showing “2nd place” beside my name, I just couldn’t believe my eyes. Not only that, I touched with a time of 4:24.81, which was the time that Coach Sergio predicted I would go, the feeling was just surreal.

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To touch 1st and 2nd for Singapore was a dream that Zheng Wen and I had coming into this SEA Games, and to be able to achieve our dream meant a lot to me. It was a pretty awesome feeling.

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With that, my curse of no individual medals for 6 years was broken, and I carried on with that confidence to win another bronze medal for Singapore in the 400m Freestyle.

I could feel the amount of happiness that my parents and sisters were feeling after my races and that really made my whole SEA Games experience worthwhile. Ever since young, I’ve always strive to do my parents proud in whatever I do and seeing their happy faces makes me happy too. They’ve been through the tough times with me and I’m glad that they never gave up hope on me. I wouldn’t have been where I am today without their support.

This concludes my 2015 SEA Games experience. Great memories have been forged in this meet and it will definitely be remembered for a lifetime. I must say that I have dreaded the lectures and tough sessions from Coach Sergio and Gary at first, but I’m happy to say that all of it has finally paid off. I’ve mature a lot as a swimmer and person and I’m grateful for those who believed in me.

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I hope my experience will inspire anyone whose going through a tough phase in your life. Anything is possible as long as we believe in ourselves. Always remember that no matter how hard or low your life may be, God always has a plan for you and everything happens for a reason. You have to believe in the process and stay the course. My swimming career wasn’t a smooth sail but I’m glad that I pulled through the tough times. Trust me, all the pain and hard work was worth it.

For those who never gave up in me, thank you so much.

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To Adrian Seetho
Thank you for being there for us throughout the whole of SEA Games to capture all these wonderful memories. Every photo holds a significant meaning to me and I’m glad that you were able to capture them so that these moments will never be forgotten. 

 

Link to my races: 
Men’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay 
Men’s 400m Individual Medley
Men’s 400m Freestyle

Men’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay Victory Ceremony
Men’s 400m Individual Medley Victory Ceremony
Men’s 400m Freestyle Victory Ceremony

 

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The power of perseverance goes a long way in sports

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I’ve had many ups and downs in my swimming career… the low points including failing to win a medal in 2 consecutive SEA Games and missing the qualification mark in the Commonwealth and Olympic Games, all of which were my biggest aspirations as a national swimmer.

However, these setbacks are the reason I am still swimming today. I have always taken each setback to motivate myself to work even harder than ever to achieve what I want out of the sport.

If my journey had been a smooth one throughout my whole swimming career, I could well have retired by now. However, the real question is – is that the true meaning of success? If success comes too easily, chances are that there would be fewer lessons learned from the experience; that is human nature.

Personally, the process of achieving one’s goal is far more important than the outcome, so having a rocky journey may not be that bad after all. It has taught me not to be afraid of falling. So what if we fall? We just have to get back up stronger again after every fall. Only we can limit ourselves from achieving our goals, so we must learn to believe more in ourselves.

Swimming is an unpredictable sport: sometimes the harder you work, the more negative results you might achieve. This happens because of one’s own expectations.  Having worked so hard for something, it is natural for one to expect better results, placing unnecessary pressure on oneself even before the competition starts. I have had my own fair share of bad experiences. I was stagnant with regards to my swim times for 4 years, and that was a very difficult period for me. During those 4 difficult years, I went through a period where I questioned myself about whether I had reached the plateau of my swimming career, and whether it was time to retire from the Sport.

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But throughout those 4 difficult years when I wasn’t doing well in the Sport, my parents never gave up hope on me. They always saw the potential in my swimming career.

“It’s ok Sheng Jun, it’s just a bad week, I’m sure you’ll bounce back in no time. :)”

That was what my dad said to me… for 4 years. I was literally having a “bad week” for 4 years but he never gave up hope on me. He always saw the potential in me though I was clocking really bad swim times. There were even doubters who questioned my ability to my dad but that didn’t stop him from believing in me.

Seeing the amount of faith he had in me, I could not give up on the sport just yet. I needed to show him that I was better than that. But with every competition, I just did worse and worse. It felt like a constant losing battle, but I just kept the faith that “it was just a bad week” and that everything would get better in time.

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So through constant encouragement from my parents, friends and coaches who saw the potential in me, I have persevered through the tough times and I am glad that I did because after 4 years of being stagnant in my swimming career, I have managed to turn things around in the 5th year.

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& Let me tell you this – All the 4 years of agony and despair in the sport… It was worth it when I saw the happiness from those who supported me when I bounced back from my slump.

Through this experience, I’ve learned that as long as you persevere and believe in yourself, you’ll be able to overcome any obstacles that are in front of you.

If you ever feel like giving up, always remember why you started in the first place. Just know that no matter adverse challenges may seem, you’ll be able to achieve them as long as you work hard and not give up.

Nobody knows what the future holds for us, but as long as we keep working hard, we’ll live life with no regrets.

 

Photos used in this blog were taken by Adrian Seetho Photography, check out more of his awesome work here:

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Hard Work Pays Off

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Having the correct mindset is important for swimming

Hi Sheng Jun, you’re basically the reason why I continued swimming after 2 long years because your blog posts gives me motivation to start swimming once again 🙂 But right now I’m actually struggling since I just joined the development competitive team & I’ve been having second thoughts on backing out lately since I’m afraid that I can’t cope well with school & social life but at the same time, I don’t wish to stop swimming. what should I do? 🙁 

I’m about to give you my own life experience from my swimming career, hope this would be able to inspire you to keep on swimming.

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When I was young, my aspiration was for my parents to be proud of me. I was more of a hyper active person so I believed that I could excel in swimming if I worked hard for it, thus leading them being proud of my achievements.

I constantly visualized the smile on my parents’ face if I ever won a SEA Games gold medal, and that really motivated me to get up at 5am every morning to train my heart out.

To be honest, I wasn’t the best in my squad during my days of developmental swimming, but that didn’t discourage me because I always believe that as long as I keep working hard, I’d be able to surpass them some day. Always remember that if you believe in yourself, amazing things will start to happen. So start believing! 🙂

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Back to my story, so ever since then, I kept on working hard with the mindset of making my parents proud and it has worked out pretty well for me; however, it was only for the training aspect of swimming.

During the past 2 SEA Games that I’ve been to (2009, 2011) I had failed to medal in those games; I missed the podium by a little every time. It wasn’t because I wasn’t ready to race, but the thought of doing my parents proud was too overwhelming that I crumbled under such pressure, which made my performance go down when the big meet came.

I did some deep reflection and started to question my swimming ability and whether I should continue my career as a national swimmer. But then a thought struck me – Since I’ve already been swimming for most of my life, why give up now when I’ve already held on for so long? Screw it, I’m going to try for one more SEA Games, but this time around, I’m just going to enjoy the whole process of swimming.

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I personally love swimming a lot because it’s a temporary escape from reality; all the stresses from work, school, parents, they’re just gone when you dive in to the pool. When you’re swimming, it’s just the water and you, and nobody can stop you from experiencing that feeling of peace. This made me continue my career in swimming as I just needed an escape from reality.

However, this time around, instead of stressing myself out too much in training, I decided to have fun and enjoy the whole process of swimming. I still continued training hard, but it was done solely because swimming was my life and passion.

And let me tell you this, things started to take a turn when I started to swim for myself – Competitions became much more fun and enjoyable, and medals were just a bonus. I wasn’t stressing myself out too much during big meets and that was the key to my good performance.

This positive feeling stayed with me through out the 2013 SEA Games and I finally won a medal after failing at it 2 times. The best part of it? I was finally able to achieve what I wanted to achieve since young – To see the smiles on my parents’ face. I still can remember my dad playing the SEA Games race replay 10 over times everyday just to relive the moment, and it was indeed heartwarming seeing him being so proud of my achievements.

So when you’re about to give up, just remember why you held on for so long in the first place. If you enjoy swimming, don’t ever stop doing it, because the joy of every good race you swim is irreplaceable. You just have to believe in yourself and work hard towards achieving your goals, and the sense of accomplishment you get when you finally achieve your goals are worth the long grueling hours in the swimming pool.

With regards to social life, if you look at it from a different perspective, swimmers actually have the best social life anyone could ever ask for. My closest friends are from the same training squad as me as we go through the same grueling regime together every day. All the sweat and hard work, we’re going through it together. So overtime the bond between us will strengthen no matter what and we’ll create an unbreakable bond of friendship through the years. We know each others personalities inside out as we’ve been through thick and thin together.

Don’t be afraid that you’ll lose your social life as a swimmer, because you’ll create new friendships when you start mixing around with your swim mates. You see this guys over here? They’re like my family now, and I’d never replace them.

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Swimming is my life, and it will always be. Just remember that even if you end your career without achieving your life goal, you’ll still be an accomplished individual as swimming teaches you life values like perseverance and discipline, which will definitely help you in your future career. Take me for an example, my medals in swimming were just a bonus. Ultimately, swimming has taught me these life values that will last me for a life time. So just keep swimming!

I sincerely hope that my life experiences would inspire and give you the extra motivation when you’re tired! 🙂

Have a question as well? Ask me and it may appear on my next blog post!

 

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Everyone falls down at some point in their life… This was how I overcame my setback

Everyone falls down at some point in their life, including me. To be honest nobody knows about this except one of my greatest friends Russell and he promised not to say it. But it has been 3 years since it happened so I guess I don’t mind sharing it in case it helps someone!

DISCLAIMER: THIS IS GOING TO BE A LONG POST. 

This is my story: 

Back in 2011, do you believe that I was suicidal?

To be honest, I am a confident person with a positive outlook in life, everyone knows that. But what happened that year almost made me end my life. I just did not see a way out of it, I was depressed, stuck, and all alone, and the only way out for me was just to escape… life.

It all happened when I was still serving my National Service (NS). As a national swimmer, NS really slows down your training by quite a bit (many male athletes would know about this). Imagine training 5 hours a day to none when you enter Basic Military Training for 2 months (BMT), your fitness would drop for sure.

It was a really stressful year back in 2011 as it was a SEA Games year, which was also the year I entered NS.

I qualified for the SEA Games in March, followed by NS from May-July.

At that point of time I thought I had everything planned out – SEA Games was in November, so I would have 4 solid months to get back in shape after BMT.

A Comparison of Me during Army and Now 

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But that was not what happened…

I was assigned to my new unit that included vocation training which took another 2 months. That means I would only have 2 months to train for SEA Games.

How was I ever going to make a comeback like that? It was practically impossible to get my fitness back in 2 months.

Fortunately, I had a stay out vocation when I was done with the necessary training in NS, but time was definitely not on my side, and I was already kinda depressed when all that happened.

But I just kept training my heart out whenever I had the opportunity and tried my best to get my fitness back as soon as possible. To be honest, it was not the best fitness I had going into the SEA Games, but that was already the best I could do, and I had to keep telling myself that I felt good and fit. Trust me, it wasn’t easy doing that.

I even had some issues right before going to the SEA Games. I initially was not allowed to go for SEA Games due to several reasons, and I only knew that I was going for the SEA Games 2 days before the actual day of leaving, which was really rush for me, but I’m glad I still managed to go.

“Sheng Jun, will you be able to bring home the Gold medal for Singapore?” My Institute Sergeant Major asked me right before I left for SEA Games.

“Yes Sir! I will bring the Gold medal back.” I said confidently, though I knew my fitness was not quite there yet.

“I will be watching you on TV! Don’t come back without a medal I tell you.” He said with a joking tone, but I took it seriously as I really wanted to prove my worth as a national swimmer.

I had so much pressure going into the SEA Games, knowing that my coach had also set high expectations of me, and my army waiting for the good news.

So with that much pressure, I left for the SEA Games… 

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On the day of my event, I had a good morning swim in the heats, and I was pretty confident of winning a medal in the finals. My coach also knew I was ready to perform.

My parents were sitting at the spectators stand after the heats, I looked up to them and showed them a thumbs up sign, “I’m ready for finals, watch me.” I gestured.

So after the morning swim I went back to the games village to rest up for finals. That was when everything fell apart for me. I just could not fall asleep that day, so many thoughts ran through my head:

“What if I don’t win the race?”

“My parents would want to see me win for sure.”

“The people in my camp are definitely watching as well.”

“2 months of solid training, it all comes down to this.” 

“I need to rest right now.”

“I need to calm down right now.” 

“I don’t feel good now.”

So much negativity went through my mind when I was supposed to sleep. I ran through the race in my head so many times to make sure I would not make any mistakes. My heart was racing, and I just could not bring myself to calm down and sleep.

So in total I only had a 5 minute power nap before I went to race in the finals.

On the starting blocks before the race I felt super exhausted and tired even before it started, and I guess we all should know the verdict of the race.

I touched 5th place, and I was utterly disappointed.

After the race I walked up to my mum.

“I guess it’s over, I tried my best, and I’ve got no regrets.”

I could tell from my mum’s body language that she was really hurt.

“I thought you would have learnt your mistakes from 2009 SEA Games and finally medal this one. What happened there? That was definitely not you swimming.”

“Well, yeah. Anyway I actually bought this box of waffles as I thought it would be a good way to celebrate the night with your friends with a medal finish. I really didn’t expect this, but just take these waffles and share it with your friends anyway.”

Disappointed, she walked away.

For a minute or 2 I just stood there, reflected on my race, my actions, my mistakes, and I started breaking into tears. I didn’t bother to warm down after my race. I tried to cover up to my friends by smiling so they didn’t know the amount of depression I was going through.

So I went back to the Games Village and stood at the highest level, learning on the railing, and reflected upon my life again. At that moment in time, the only way out was to just jump. To be honest you tend to not think straight when you are in that current state of mood.

How was I going to face reality? I promised army that I would bring a medal back, my own mum did not even want to talk to me, and nobody knew how I was feeling.

Just as I was about to make that jump, Russell walked pass.

“What the hell are you doing?!” He asked.

I didn’t reply him.

“COME BACK HERE AND JUST SIT DOWN NOW.” He could sense that there was something wrong with me and pulled me away from the railing.

“What were you thinking of doing?!” He said while he was grabbing hold of my hand tightly.

“…Jumping.” I said with a muffled voice.

“ARE YOU MAD?!” He exclaimed.

“No, I just don’t see another way out.” Tears continued streaming down my face.

“Hey Sheng Jun, you gotta understand this… When you jump, all problems are obviously going to be solved for you, because you wouldn’t even be here anymore! Imagine this, even though your mum is already disappointed now, but she will get over it sooner or later. But if you take the easy way out now, it is going to make it even worse for everyone, your parents are probably going to take a longer time, or never even be able to get over this. Even I myself would find it really hard to get over it if I ever lose you. Come on man, it’s a really selfish thing to do, don’t do it, think about everyone else. There is still 2013 SEA Games, trust me you can always aim to win that one. If that thought of jumping ever comes to your mind again, please let me know, and I will make sure it doesn’t happen.” Russell persuaded me.

I felt really touched at that point of time, but I still did not see a way out. But after thinking about my loved ones, I went away from the railing.

“Come russ, my mum bought this waffles for me to celebrate. Lets celebrate anyway.” And we sat down together to enjoy the waffles.

As the saying goes, time heals all wounds, and I slowly bounced back over the years and that setback really motivated me to train much harder than I ever did. I could not stand defeat, so everyday leading up to the 2013 SEA Games I constantly had that thought of failure on my mind. That really motivated me to train harder everyday.

So with that mindset, I finally managed to win a Gold medal in the 2013 SEA Games 2 painful years later.

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You have no idea how happy I was over here. All the disappointment, sadness and hurt vanished the moment I won a Gold medal for Singapore. The amount of pain that I felt over the years, the countless hours of training, I gotta say it was honestly worth it, and I’m glad that I never gave up on swimming.

You can’t always expect life to go according to your way, and sometimes you just have to believe in yourself in order to make things right.

Always remember that the joy of victory triumphs the hours of hard work and pain, so never ever be afraid of failing.

“You finally did it!” Russell said to me.

“Yeah, finally.” A big sigh of relief with a smile coming from me.

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Looking back now I’m really glad that Russell stopped me from that jump, or I would not have been able to experience the joy that life has brought me now.

Knowing that the worst has already happened, I’m a much much stronger person now as I understand that failing is part and parcel of life. It’s failures like these that made me the strong willed and motivated person I am today. I train as hard as I can now because I know how painful it is to experience failure again, and I would do my best to not let it ever happen again.

I thank Russell for everything that he has done for me, he is definitely one of my best bros to date.

If you ever feel that it is impossible to find a way out in life, trust me, everything will get better in time. I have been there myself, and I got out of it, you just have to fight hard don’t ever think about giving up! Everyone faces failures before success.

 

So this is my story, what is yours? 

To end off my long blog post, this is a quote by Michael Jordan which really inspired me to train hard:

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

Everything is looking good towards SEA Games 2015!

Hard Work Pays Off! 

 

BLOG UPDATE: Like I mentioned I took 2 painful years to overcome my setback. If you’re facing a setback as well, read my latest blog post by clicking on this link here!

 

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Why Swimmers are the Most Underrated Athletes

1) We Train Insanely Hard 1958187_10152276985907363_405049553_n

Back in my Sports School days the swimmers were always the first to be up. Long after our swimming training had commenced, we would start seeing student athletes from other sports walking to their respective training areas. I used to be really envious of the other student athletes but I kind of figured that the demands are really great in swimming. You might be thinking, why do we train so hard?  When it comes to a race, swimming the ‘perfect race’ isn’t actually quite enough. We have got to have the ‘perfect race’ 2-3 times if we want to even get close to winning. Why is this so?  In swimming, we have heats, semi-finals and finals. In most cases we only have heats and finals in one day, which means we have to have 2 perfect races a single day in order to get the Gold medal. So you touched 1st place in the heats with a solid race, you might feel really accomplished about your race. But in reality, what you only accomplished is being a finalist. During the finals, whatever times you did in your heats does not count, everything starts from ground zero again, a guy that qualified 8th place gets equal chance of getting the Gold medal in the finals. So in order to have enough stamina to go hard for heats and finals in a single day, we have to train extra hard to match up to our competitors.

 

2) It is Not Only Physically Strenuous, but Mentally Strenuous as well   10442466_282669438573161_7491070363692971691_n

Qualifying for the finals makes a swimmer really excited because you are amongst the 8 fastest swimmers which will get to swim again in the finals! Everyone would be watching you race so the pressure is definitely higher. Due to the heats and finals being on the same day, swimmers must learn to stay calm right after the heats to get the appropriate recovery they need to race again in the finals, and trust me it is not an easy task to remain calm knowing that you have a final race later in the evening. I remember back when I just got into my first final in an open age swim meet I got so excited that I could not sleep before the race. My heart was racing so much and I just could not calm myself down enough to sleep. “I’M FINALLY TOP 8 FASTEST IN SINGAPORE!!!’ I just could not believe it. I ended up not sleeping at all and raced in the finals. What was the verdict of my final swim?  It was the biggest regret of my life. I was so tired at the start of the race that I could not perform during the finals. The adrenaline rush came too early and that had caused me my race. But every race is a learning experience, and over the years I have learnt to keep myself calm and contained before the finals. Music helps a lot 🙂

 

3) We Analyze and Plan Our Races A Lot  10481717_282816405225131_7866411241556373472_n

Since winning the heats does not guarantee you a medal in the finals, swimmers analyze our races A LOT. Personally before every race I would sit down and strategize my race plan with Coach Gary and he would give me the best advice for my race. What makes a perfect heat swim is usually having a perfect race without spending too much energy during your heat swim. The key goal of a heat swim is to get into the top 8. However, it can be really tricky as well. Yes I agree that top 8 swimmers advance to the finals, but do you really want to be 8th place? Not for pride’s sake, but qualifying 8th place in a race means you would be in lane 8 for the finals, which is a corner lane. The downside to a corner lane is that you may not know what is going on in the middle of the pool (Lanes 3, 4, 5, 6) which are the top 4 qualifiers. Unless you are confident of your own race plan, I would not recommend qualifying 8th place in a race, it can go really wrong. So it is all about analyzing your competitors, and planning a specific race plan to allow you to use the least amount of energy and still be able to qualify for the finals in a good lane. Ultimately it is all about winning your competitors for the finals, heats do not matter. For me I find that qualifying top 4 for the finals would be best because you would be able to see your competitors when you race during the finals. That really motivates me to swim faster as I hate to lose so I will try to win my competitors to the best of my ability.

 

4) If We Do Not Train Hard, Others Will  10520843_10154396581335294_9000382389641759259_n

There is a constant battle between swimmers and their 4:50am alarm clock. Waking up is only the first step to winning the battle with the bed. Jumping in the ice cold pool in at 5:30am is also another thing swimmers dread most. But if it is so tough, why do we still wake up to train every morning?  That is because if we do not get up, others will be busy training their hearts out while you snooze. “You snooze, you lose” it is that simple. We do 6-7km of high intensity swimming per training session so if we do skip a session we would be missing out on a lot. To me that is a strong motivator to get up that early in the morning because if I hit the snooze button, I am already a step behind my competitors as they would not be hitting the snooze button for sure. I am sure that many of the national swimmers in Singapore have this mentality as well, that is why swimming times in Singapore are getting faster and faster each year.

 

5) Every Part of Our Body is Being Used in Swimming  pang sheng jun

Literally every part of our body is engaged during swimming, which makes it so hard. After each week of training my entire body will be so sore that I feel like lazing my whole weekend away on the bed. Yes, trust me, it is that bad, but we are already used to it.

 

5) Constantly Saying No to Your Friends  IMG_1548

If I had a great party which I really want to attend, or a game that I really want to play, the first question would be, “Will it end by 10pm? I have to get up for morning training tomorrow.”  My friends outside swimming would laugh at me most of the time at the amount I sleep. They cannot believe that someone so old can actually sleep so much. But yes, I do sleep a lot because that is the only way I can recover from my hectic training schedule. So most of the time if an outing or game has a potential of passing 10pm, I would say no to it as it would affect my training the following morning. I do miss out on quite a bit of fun, but this is the price you would have to pay if you want to be the best athlete you can be. But do take note that life is all about balance, when it is time to enjoy, just enjoy life. I enjoy my life after every major competition so there is a balance to my life. (E.g. having late nights after a major competition like SEA Games or Asian Games)

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So this pretty much sums up a life of a national swimmer. Though we make many sacrifices, I personally enjoy this lifestyle as swimming is my passion, and there are goals that I hope to achieve in this sport, and whether I achieve my goals or not, these sacrifices have shaped me to a more disciplined individual in general so I have no regrets. 🙂 People outside of swimming may not know the amount of sacrifice we go through to get the results we want, so hope this story would give you a clearer idea of a swimmers work ethic!

 

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How I Kept Myself Motivated to Swim as a Kid

Hi Sheng Jun, I am a big fan. Could you post inspirational stories of yourself to motivate myself and other young inspiring swimmers to continue pursuing their goals? – A swimmer from CSC.

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Initially I was afraid of the pool when I started swimming at 6, but with time and encouragement from my parents and a childhood coach, I had the courage to put my head in and start swimming.

As a kid, my parents always believed in enjoying the sport, so whenever I did not want to train, they would not force me to. There were even days that I told my parents I wanted to stay home and play Pokemon on my Gameboy and they allowed me to.

What is the rush of being the best in your age group now? Medals can wait, the main focus right now is about building unforgettable friendships and to have fun.

 

It’s About Enjoying The Sport 

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I remember once taking 3 days off swimming and having a whole chocolate cake right before a competition and I still did a personal best time. Surprising isn’t it? The key to swimming success is not always about staying focused and analyzing the race, it is actually all about having fun.

From that day, every time I had a competition, I would be rewarded with chocolate cake either by my coach or parents before my race. That was the life!

From here we can conclude that the secret to performing well is to just enjoy the whole process, to enjoy the competition. Do not stress yourself out too much, it will only have a negative impact on your performance.

 

A Setback in my Swimming Career

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Lucky for me even when I was swimming for leisure and fun, I was still winning medals, which really motivated me to train much harder. However, there came a time when the move focused I became, things started to fall apart for me.

I was training harder but ironically my swimming results became worse. The reason behind my fall was not because I was over thinking my races or anything, it was just that every guy in my age was going through puberty. I was a late bloomer so I was racing against guys that were 2-3 heads taller than me. It was as good as a boy racing teenagers. I’m not exaggerating.

I felt really discouraged to lose over and over again to those bigger guys so I told my parents that I wanted to quit swimming. Imagine training harder than you have ever trained before and still losing, how is that worth it? Obviously my parents did not allow me to quit, and told me that “this is just a low phase in your life, be strong. Remember telling us that you want to be an Olympic Champion? Even champions have their low moments in their sporting career. Trust us you will get past this in no time.”  You have no idea how angry I was at them at that point of time when I could not quit swimming.

What was worse was that I was far behind on my school work due to all the swimming training and I was often canned for this by my form teacher, Mrs Lim.

“SHENG JUN, QUIT SWIMMING LA, WHERE CAN SWIMMING BRING YOU? YOU CANNOT EVEN COMPLETE YOUR HOMEWORK AND YOU STILL WANT TO SWIM?” This statement was followed by a few strokes of the cane on my hand with a ruler. Teary eyes for me every time I was caned and I still do not know why I continued swimming. I feared school as I was caned by my teacher, and she was the person I feared most in life.

Even though there were so many things going on in my life at that period of time, I still continued training hard as I trusted my parents’ decision.

 

Have a Goal in Mind, and Never Give Up No Matter What Happens

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It was only after 2 years of hardship that I finally grew (well just a little) and started winning medals again. My happiest moment when I was a kid was winning the Overall Champion for the ACS Swim Carnival. (Photo above)

As I collected the Overall Champion award, a familiar voice shouted from the crowd, “Sheng Jun!!!! Well done!” I immediately turned at the direction of where the voice was coming from. To my surprise, it was Mrs Lim!

After I saw her she waved at me with a smile, and she was standing beside 2 other teachers. “That is my student!” She said proudly with a smile to the 2 teachers.

All the fear, the hard work, and the amount of sacrifice over 2 years was worth the moment I saw the smile on her face. You have no idea how much happiness I felt at that moment of time as I had been through so many tough times to the point where I was going to break.

That was the time where my passion for swimming grew strong and I started to live by my ‘Hard Work Pays Off’ motto and kept training hard from that day. Never give up on your passion and goals no matter how impossible or hard they may be, because all your hard work will pay off one day, it is only just a matter of time. You are in control of your own life, do not let others tell you otherwise. Just take me as an example, if I had given up when I was a kid, I would not be where I am today.

 

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I have come a long way and it is amazing how much I have grown since, but nothing has changed. My passion for swimming has still remained strong and I will keep training hard until I achieve the goals I set myself out for.

It is obviously very different now in the National Team, but it is a whole new experience. I will never forget the friendships made back then when I was a kid. Always remember to have fun, and you will realize how much more meaningful the sport becomes!

I am really thankful to my parents for the constant encouragement during my lowest points in my swimming career. Your family will always be by your side through the darkest moments of your life and I am really lucky to have them.

So, this is my story. Hope it inspires you and your friends to train even harder and continue to pursue on your goals! 🙂

 

Have a question as well? Feel free to email me at hello@pangshengjun.com or drop me a question on Ask.fm 🙂

pang sheng jun

 

pang sheng jun

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Behind Every National swimmer in Singapore is Endless Support From Many Others

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The South East Asian Swimming Championships just ended last week and I’m glad to say that I’ve clocked another 2 personal bests out of 4 races.It’s been 4 years since I’ve constantly swam personal best times and I’m really happy.

Ended off the meet with 1 Gold and 3 Bronze medals, the best international meet I’ve ever had.

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Being able to see improvement really makes me feel young again and my motivation for swimming has definitely returned.

However, I would like to emphasize that these great performances were not achieved through hard work on my part alone, but also with endless amount of support from others.

 

Support from Parents

Non-swimmers would not know about this, but when it comes to competitive swimming, you often see parents of each individual swimmer watching over their kids when they are training, even if they have to sacrifice their sleep. So picture this, 5:30am in the morning when the swimmers are all training, there would be constant ‘supporters’ by the side of the pool deck watching us train.

Why is that so? To put it simple, parents just want the best for their children, even if it sacrifices their sleep time, it is all worth it as long as they can see their child succeed. In other words, parents in Singapore sacrifice as much time and effort as the swimmers as well.

Personally for me, for about 7 years in my swimming career, my dad has always been up earlier than me for the days of my training.

E.g. when training starts at 5:30am for me, I’ll be up at 4:45am to wash up and have a meal. But for my dad, he will be up at 4:30 to wash up and prepare my pre training meal for me so that I can train well. He then fetches me to training and watches me when I train.

Sounds crazy huh? He did that on a daily basis for 7 years. Glad I’m independent enough to drive myself to training sessions now, but he is still up at 4:30am every morning to prepare my pre training meal for me.

Back from training my mum would prepare me my favorite breakfast, 4 slices of bread with 3 eggs and cheese. I’ve been eating this breakfast for many many years, still having it every morning now.

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I can honestly say that without their constant support, I would not be where I am today. Thank you Dad and Mum, really appreciate everything. 🙂

 

Support from Coach

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There has been a lot of controversy over whether the coach you train under matters, some say that as long as the swimmer is determined enough, he will still succeed. From experience, I disagree with this.

I’ve been training under many coaches in 16 years of my swimming career and yes, the coach does matter whether you perform well or not.

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A coach that really changed my whole mindset about swimming was Coach Gary. What differentiates him from the rest is that he is not only a coach, but also a friend and a mentor. He takes the time to hang out with us during our social time so he understands each individual fully as a person, not only as a swimmer. Therefore he knows exactly what each individual’s strengths and weakness are mentally and supports us accordingly.

That, to me, is the most important aspect for a successful coach, because when it comes to competitions, it’s not about who is in the better physical shape, but it’s about who has the toughest mental strength. I definitely have a lot to learn from him after I retire from this sport.

I’m sure many that train under him can relate to this.

Of course, there have been many coaches that have helped shaped me into who I am today. They include SSP’s Coach Fang, SSC’s Coach Yuan, and of course many others who taught me the fundamentals of swimming well.

I finally got my first international medal in an individual event, thanks for everything coach Gary!

 

Support from Sponsors

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With the progression of technology, swimming suits can be really expensive now. It used to cost below $100 per jammer back in the days when I was a kid but the best quality suits from Arena now can cost up to $300 per jammer. As we swimmers wear up to 4 suits per year for competitions; that totals up to $1200 on competition jammers alone!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Arena for their support ever since 2009, it has really allowed me to have the best suit available in the market without me worrying about the cost.

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Also, I would like to thank Creative Singapore for providing awesome products for me before my race. The products I use to get in the zone pre meet are the Aurvana In-Ear 3 and the Soundblaster EVO ZXRs.

 

Support from Fellow Singaporeans and Teammates in the Spectator Stands

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It really makes a difference when you know you have your country and teammates behind you every race. Every time a Singaporean was called out before the finals, our teammates and crowd will be cheering loudly for us which really helped psych us up before the race.

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Personally for me I felt really pumped before my race as my teammates and supporters were cheering really loudly for me, and it really motivated me to give my best race as I didn’t want to let them down.

Having your teammates and supporters behind you really gives you the extra edge to perform better.

 

Support from Officials

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The most underappreciated people that support us in every competition: The Officials! We take for granted when meets run smoothly, but lay the blame on them when the meets are delayed.

This SEA Champs went really smooth this time and I thank the officials for their constant effort to stay professional.

 

Support from SSA

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Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to thank SSA for finding sponsors for us for this Southeast Asian Championships or this whole competition wouldn’t have even been successful.

The staff at SSA really worked overtime to ensure that logistics were done right and they also had to stay back if swimmers had to go through doping test, which may take really long to complete.

An example was when a staff from SSA had to stay back until about 11pm as one of the swimmers was stuck in a doping test!

Also, getting a biomechanist on deck for us after our preliminaries swim really benefited us as we knew the areas we needed to improve on for our finals.

 

Overall Experience

All things considered, this Southeast Championships was a really good meet for me. I managed to get my first international medal in an individual event which is really quite a big achievement for me now. Like what Coach Gary said, let’s look ahead to have a great meet in the Asian Games!

Thank you everyone for your support! 🙂

 

All photos were taken by Professional Photographer Adrian Seetho. More of his work can be found here: http://www.adrianseetho.com

Adrian hopes to be the official photographer for SEA Games 2015 so we wish him all the best! 

 

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Hard Work Pays Off

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