Sunday, 24 June 2012

Not Alone

A snapshot of my training in China (1991) 

"Ringggggggg!" - 5:00am, my daily wake-up call. I open my eyes and look up at the bed above me - feeling cold and hearing my lonely heart beat.

It is the cold winter in Guangzhou, China. Every day, the gymnasts attend their morning workouts at the running track, followed by stretching and strength training at the gymnasium. The track is dark and chilly. All of us gather in a circle in our thick winter clothes to do a quick warm up to prepare for the fearsome 400m sprint. If the run is unsatisfactory to the coach, we have to go for a few more rounds, till he says 'stop'. In the gymnasium, after being pressed down on our hips in our front splits by our coaches to improve our flexibility, we proceed to do either 10 sets each of 10 continuous back somersaults, 10 continuous press-ups (to handstand) or 1min handstand holds. Should we break the continuity or fall from our handstands, we have to redo that set. No one talks, no one makes eye contacts, no one dares to go against the coaches - everyone was afraid.

The daily noise begins at breakfast in the cafeteria. My Chinese gymnastic friends start to act their age - smiling, laughing and poking fun at each other. Their ages ranged from 5 to 13 years old. I was 10 then. 

My bedroom in China (1988)

At the 13th Southeast Asia (SEA) Games in 1985, the Singapore gymnastics team went to Bangkok, Thailand in full force of six to compete. My teammates were Srina Shari, Chua Sze Muay, Gan Sock Hong, Tan Yuen Yuen and Suzanna Shari. My debut at the games caused quite a stir in Thailand as at the age of seven, I was the youngest participant in the history of the games. We competed to the best of our ability and we were placed fourth in the team overall (originally a team bronze due to non-appointment of neutral technical delegate. Another story to be told). I had a lot of fun with the media, the senior gymnasts, and the athletes and officials of other sports. My mom was my acting "public relations" representative, encouraging and helping me to answer all kinds of questions which included the age I started training, the reason behind the choice of sports instead of music, and the ultimate sporting goal of my life.

13th SEA Games Gymnastics Team - Srina Shari, Chua Sze Muay,
Gan Sock Hong, Tan Yuen Yuen, Suzanna Shari & Eileen Chai (1985)

My goal - to compete in the Olympics. One thing I learnt from the games - the huge gap between my gymnastic skill level to the regional competitors'. I had to improve to close that gap and reach my dream. At the age of nine, the Singapore Amateur Gymnastics Association sent the national team to the Beijing Sports Institute in China for a three-week training stint. The trip was fantastic - there was no distraction of television, the training was well structured, and the facilities and apparatuses were of world-class. I was so excited! I got to know a Chinese gymnast, Alan. He shared with me the story of his life and told me where he used to train. We exchanged contacts, and one year later, I was training in Guangzhou, China.

The Chinese gymnast, Alan whom I met at the Beijing Sports Institute  (1987)

London 2012 Olympics is just around the corner. Lim Heem Wei is about to fulfil her dream. She has walked the path that no other gymnasts have gone before - silver medal for balance beam at the Commonwealth Games 2010; team gold, individual all-around bronze and floor exercise silver medals at the SEA Games 2011; qualified at the World Championships 2011 for the London Test Event 2012; qualified at the London Test Event 2012 for the London 2012 Olympic Games, and becoming the first Singaporean gymnast to qualify for the Olympics. Behind all the glamour of donning the red-white national colours of her gymnastic leotards, and Team Singapore track suits and polo shirts, lies the tears of aches when her feet lands with a thump on the four-inch-wide balance beam, the pain of her blistered and torn palms as streaks of blood coagulate in the whitish powder, and the weariness of training twice a day, everyday - her sacrifices for the nation.

The journey to become the best in what we do, can be long, arduous and exhausting. We take a step back every now and then to reflect why we put ourselves through such agony, grief and anguish. Is it to bring glory to the country? Is it to please our parents? Is it for self-fulfilment? No one can answer that question, but yourself. One thing for certain, we are not alone in our journey. Let's celebrate what we have achieved thus far, and treasure the love from family and friends.

Thank you for the birthday wishes. Here's A short video clip of my gymnastic years. Enjoy.

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