With her gold medal from this year’s South East Asian (SEA) Games, national high jumper Michelle Sng, 30, feels as though she has finally come full circle.
At the Sea Games women’s high jump competition taking place at the Bukit Jalil Stadium, Michelle had cleared 1.83 metres but had failed to clear 1.86 metres. This result had tied her for the gold medal together with Vietnam’s Duong Thi Viet Anh.
Her gold medal had also been the first by a female high jumper in 52 years.
Emotional that she had succeeded in making a comeback
Said Michelle, “I can’t really say if I expected the gold or not because I was not thinking about a medal or a podium finish. My focus was really to go to Kuala Lumpur (KL) to compete. I was not thinking about a personal best or a podium position let alone the gold medal.”
She added, “But on the podium, I was really emotional because I felt as though I had succeeded in making a comeback (from when she had quit the sport in 2011). The gold medal was the biggest bonus I could get, but if I had ended up with a silver or bronze, standing on the podium would still have been pretty amazing too.”
Her emotional feelings had not just been linked to winning the gold for Singapore; they were also partly related to her having successfully overcome her demons, when Michelle had last quit the sport in 2011.
Discovering her talent for high jump
She explained, “I had initially discovered high jump at 13 during the inter class sports day. Nobody wanted to do the high jump because it was not very enticing and seemed quite daunting. So I signed up at the spur of the moment, went to print out notes online, and then I tried and competed at the inter class sports day and broke the school record.”
Michelle then went to the National Schools competition that year and she won. Her high jump career took off at that point and she broke the national record twice in 2006.
Added Michelle, “But then in 2007, I had a bad fall and hit the hurdle hard. I had a stress fracture to my left shin. In 2008 I went to Germany for surgery but I never quite made a comeback after that. I could not find my form anymore. I was not in the best state psychologically so then in 2011, I decided to move to KL because I thought a change in environment would help, but that did not happen, so it was at the Bukit Jalil Stadium in KL that I decided to hang up my spikes.”
Michelle had then disappeared completely from the sport after that.
Making a comeback in 2015
She added, “But in 2013, after the Myanmar Sea Games, my coach (Chan See Huey) contacted me and asked me to make a comeback. I actually said no because I remembered the physiological pain that I had not been able to let go of. I thought I had given it up and moved on, so I didn’t want to go back to it again.”
But at her coach’s insistence, Michelle went back to training and she rediscovered the passion for high jump.
She said, “That was when I realised that I still loved the sport a lot and that I could do this. After training for a couple of months, I was fortunate I could break the national record for the third time and won the bronze medal at the 2015 Games on home soil.”
Realised she still had it in her
However Michelle still felt that she had not come full circle at that point.
She said, “The bronze medal made me realise I still had it in me, and maybe it was not so bad after all that I had taken a break. The original plan had been to come back for the 2015 Games, serve my national duty and then to hang up my spikes and go back to regular life. But when I stood on the podium that year, I realised that I was not really back to finish the mission but to start something new.”
Continued Michelle, “So then I decided to hold on for two more years, and return to KL to compete in the Games, then perhaps all the pain that I had, could finally be resolved.”
So Michelle quit her job last November and moved to Sydney to train full time for the 2017 Games, and then the rest is history.
All the pain that she went through, was for a reason
Explained Michelle, “This gold medal win in KL made me feel that all the pain that I went through was for a reason. This win was not so much of realising my dream or that my hard work has paid off; it is more of this understanding that my time has finally come. My journey has shaped me and moulded me to who I am today; I would not be the person I am today, if I did not go through all that.”
She added, “I don’t really see my story as inspirational. It is more about the right things happening at the right time and for the right reasons. If you are going through pain and hurt, you might not understand why this is happening to you. But then at the end of everything you look back and understand the journey.”
Plans to take time off for a holiday
And now that everything has completely turned around for her, Michelle now plans to take time off to have a well deserved holiday.
She said, “The plan right now is to take some time off and have my break and vacation before deciding on my next move. I can’t say for sure if another Sea Games is on the cards yet, though.”
Her advice for other athletes
And considering everything that she has been through too, what advice does Michelle have for other athletes out there?
She said “It is easy to say to press on and not give up, but I think what I really learnt is that you need to have a strong support system around you. Your achievements are not yours only. I would not be where I am today if not for the people around me and I think that it is important to ask for help from your coach, training mates, friends and family, to your sponsors and associations supporting you. All of that plays a role as well.”
Added Michelle, “I also think that it is important to stay hungry because you want to go for something bigger, but at the same time, you need to remain humble; never forget where you came from and stay grounded despite your achievements.”