Heading into the 2015 South East Asian (SEA) Games, national swimmer Quah Ting Wen, 22, had been feeling confident and prepared. She said, “Compared to the 2013 Games, which was a bad meet for me, I felt much more ready this time. I think I was a lot fitter and mentally prepared. I also felt happier.”
Happy with her Games performance
The swimmer is pleased with her performance, as well as that of her swimming mates, at the Games in Singapore. Said Quah, “The meet went well and that’s not just because of how many events we won. I think the environment and team camaraderie was good too. Having my two siblings there, as well as my parents and aunts, who managed to make it down for the meet, really helped a lot also.”
Quah won eight medals at the 2015 Games – four golds and four silvers. The gold medals had come from the 4x100m freestyle, 4x200m freestyle, 4x100m medley relay and the 100m individual freestyle.
Most nervous about the 4x100m freestyle relay
She admitted that out of her four gold medal events, she had been the most nervous about the 4x100m freestyle relay. Said Quah, “We lost that two years ago to Thailand and it was the first relay too. For swimmers, we say the first swim is always the hardest not because it gives you an idea of how the meet will go, but it also determines how you are racing and how prepared you are.
“We were also focused on keeping it safe with the exchanges but were a little worried about our competitors too. There’s a fine line between having a good relay exchange, versus coming out of the blocks too fast and disqualifying the whole team,” added Quah.
Fond memories of the 4x200m freestyle relay
The swimmer holds the fondest memories for the 4x200m freestyle relay at the recent SEA Games. Said Quah, “I had been quite confident heading into that one, because we had been winning it since 2009 and we also did well at this event in last year’s Asian Games.”
Added Quah, “But the way the race itself went was quite unexpected. We had one rookie in our team, her name was Christie (Chue) and she was very nervous before the race, and it showed in her splits.”
Starting to feel nervous as her time approached
As such, the Singapore relay team had lost a bit of the lead to the Thais during the race and Quah admitted that she was starting to get a little nervous when her turn to swim was approaching, as she didn’t know what the outcome would be, then. She said, “At that point, I could feel the adrenaline and my heart rate going higher and higher. It was a very raw emotional moment for me. I said to my team mate, Amanda (Lim), I’m scared and she reassured me with, it’s ok Ting.”
Added Quah, “And then the very moment I dove into the pool, my mind just went blank and I think it was one of the few times I have actually swum a whole race without thinking about anything much except swimming. In my mind, it was all about swimming and catching up with the girl in front and trying to stick with her and then take the lead.”
Home crowd helped her
But Quah added that the home crowd definitely helped her storm her way to the finishing line that day, as the anchor swimmer. She said, “A lot of the time, swimmers say that you can’t really hear anything in the crowd once we dive in. But I think I was so tired that when I took my first stroke, my head was almost coming sideways out of the water and I could hear the crowd and it was crazy. On reflections, I thought back about the race and I don’t know if the crowd was louder or noisier than usual, but the noise definitely helped.”
And she is definitely very grateful to all of those who had contributed to helping to make the Games a success in Singapore. Said Quah, “I would like to thank everyone, not only those who came down and watched the Games, but also those who planned the Games and the thousands of volunteers who gave up their time and energy to take care of the athletes – to ensure that the Games ran smoothly.”
Taken part in weekend camps to prepare for the Games
To prepare for the Games, the swimming team had taken part in several weekend training camps, beginning about a month before it started, thanks to new head coach Sergio Lopez. This was the first time that they had taken part in something like this, and Quah felt that it had really helped the swimming team to do well. She explained, “The weekend camps were very helpful in changing our mindset and attitude in terms of how we approached swimming in this meet. Sergio (Lopez) is trying to bring this philosophy of making an individual sport into a team one.”
Added Quah, “So even though you are just one person, standing behind the blocks by yourself, you know that there are so many other people in the stands rallying behind you, and in the relay events, there are three others in your team. I think that this knowledge and knowing that those same people are going to still support you for the next race and the next meet, helps you to take some of the pressure off, especially for the younger and newer swimmers. It takes a lot more than one person to achieve success in swimming. So I don’t think that any swimmer can stand up and say that they have reached that point of their swimming career all by themselves.”
Surfing accident in 2011
Ever since her surfing accident in 2011 where she broke her left arm, Quah’s performances in the 2015 Games have also taken a large weight off her shoulders and clearly shows that she is on her way back to the top in terms of national swimming.
One unlucky day, towards the end of November 2011, Quah had tried going surfing, with the sister of one of her USA-based team mates. This was something she had never tried before and she had really wanted to experience it. For the first 30 to 45 minutes, everything went well and Quah had even been able to get up on her knees on the surfboard.
She added, “But then, I had really wanted to try standing up. I was going after a big wave but the board was heavy and because of the current, it got stuck in a weird angle and the wave brought it towards me. It hit me in the arm and I tumbled with the wave. I have broken my arm twice before as a kid so I knew that it was broken when the board hit me. I just didn’t know how serious it was, because I had a wetsuit on.”
Following her accident, she had been out of swimming action for a couple of months. Quah eventually took off her cast in mid-January and tried to get back into shape for her school swimming meet in February but there hadn’t been enough time to get back into shape. Said Quah, “I remember my first time trying to dive off the blocks was the scariest, post-accident, because my arm had been in the same position for so long, that it had become way smaller than my right arm. So I just felt fragile. Mentally I had been ready to start training hard again, but physically I just wasn’t able to.”
The subsequent year and a half after the accident went pretty badly for Quah in terms of her swimming and had eventually led her to doubt whether she still wanted to swim competitively after her graduation from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) last year.
Fell in love with swimming again with the arrival of Sergio Lopez
But in the end, she made up her mind to focus on her swimming career, instead of following her peers and leaving her sports career behind and getting a job upon graduation. Added Quah, “And my attitude about swimming changed with the arrival of coach Sergio Lopez this year. He made me excited about the sport again, because of how he approaches it during training sessions.
Quah explained, “Having Sergio here, it opens up the possibilities, especially to the younger ones, of how pursuing your passion may not be the mainstream thing to do in Singapore, but if you can put aside your fears of not conforming, you will be okay. I think that helped me to remember why I started competitive swimming and how much I actually really enjoy it.” And now, her goal is to make the Olympic swimming team in Rio next year.
Grateful to have her two younger siblings also in the sport
She also felt very grateful to have her two younger siblings – brother Zheng Wen and sister Jing Wen, both involved in competitive swimming together with her, too. The swimmer added, “I feel very lucky to have both of them with me. They have both seen me at my best and worst, and what’s great about having them with me is that when I fall, I know I have them there to support me and pick me up. We feel each other’s pains as well as happiness. For example, I felt so proud of my little sister, watching her swim the 400m individual medley and get her first SEA Games medal. We help to inspire and motivate each other and are always there for one another.”
But Quah quickly added that their parents never pushed them to take up swimming. She explained, “Our parents encouraged us to go for water safety classes, but it was purely our decision to take up competitive swimming. We all love to race and we have a competitive nature, so I guess it came naturally to all of us after that.”
Never expected to swim on a national level
Continued Quah, “I never expected to become a national swimmer, though. It just happened over time. If you had asked me when I was eight years old if I had ever thought I would swim for Singapore, I wouldn’t have known. That had been the age when I took part in my first kiddies swim meet and my only goal was to try and swim that lap super fast so I could get the sparkling kids trophy that they give out at those fun meets.”
Quah also added that there is no rivalry between her and her siblings. She said, “There had never been any competition between any of us, because I think we are all different. We are each other’s success. There’s always bound to be comparisons because we’re siblings, but we are always supportive of what each other is doing and we never compare ourselves with each other. Instead we are supportive and proud for each other’s successes.”
Be honest with yourself to be successful in swimming
To do well at swimming, Quah feels that it’s important to be very honest with yourself and see if you are truly passionate about the sport. She explained, “I don’t see the point of spending so much time and energy in swimming if you don’t get any enjoyment out of it. I have met many friends who are at the pool because of outside factors, such as their parents or their schools, but they never really wanted to be there. The first thing is to feel the passion for what you are doing, and to have a goal that is realistic. But do not be afraid of dreaming big, though.”
She added, “I was probably only nine years old then, but I saw Joscelin Yeo on television at one of the SEA Games and I remember her standing on the podium and I was telling myself then, that I could never imagine myself there at that age. But then, here I am today. And for little kids who aspire to represent their country likewise one day, I would say, go for it. It doesn’t have to be swimming but I’m glad if we are able to inspire younger kids, and if they wish to represent Singapore one day, I want them to find something that they are passionate about and make small goals and eventually work towards a bigger goal and well, you never know what will happen one day.”
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