SINGAPORE: On most days, Radiance Koh is a typical busy Secondary One student, and Chia Tee Chiak is a laidback retiree. But come Aug 19, both of them will be heading to Malaysia to compete in the 29th Southeast Asian Games as the youngest and oldest Team Singapore athletes.
The Games will be one for the books for the 13-year-old sailor and the 68-year-old lawn bowler, who will compete at the event for the first and last time, respectively.
Radiance has been sailing since she was eight, when she picked it up as a Co-Curricular Activity in primary school. She qualified for the national training squad just two years later. She cites “learning, relearning, and unlearning” as one of her key strategies for success.
“When you pick up a new skill, you’ll try it on the water and see whether this new skill works. If it doesn’t work, you can leave it aside and take up another new skill and try again,” she elaborated.
Although this will be Radiance’s first appearance at a major games, she is no stranger to battling it out on the sea. She has consistently ranked among the top in local and overseas regattas in the Optimist class, including emerging champion at the 2016 Changi Sailing Club Gold Fleet Championship, and coming in third place at the 2017 KFC Langkawi International Regatta.
To qualify for the SEA Games, Radiance first had to finish as one of the top 10 girls in three local regattas. They then had to compete in another trial, and Radiance, who emerged first, was selected to represent Singapore in the Games. She hopes to get at least a medal this August.
TOOK UP BOWLING "NOT BY CHOICE"
Meanwhile, this is Tee Chiak’s third time competing in the SEA Games. The previously ranked world number 11 picked up lawn bowling 20 years ago “not by choice, but by coincidence”, after being introduced to it at a company sports event.
However, his knack for the game was apparent right from the start, when he bagged the top trophy in that event.
Tee Chiak, who is also an avid golfer, attributes some of his skill to his putting prowess, which helps him to estimate the amount of weight he needs to apply when bowling in order to hit the target.
Despite their varying levels of experience, both Radiance and Tee Chiak agreed that getting the chance to represent Singapore at this year’s Games was something that they did not anticipate.
While Radiance said she “didn’t know what to expect at first”, she said she was very encouraged by her fellow sailors who gave her “all the moral support that she needed”.
Tee Chiak, on the other hand, said that representing Singapore in a sport at this age is something he had “never dreamt of”.
He has his eyes on a gold medal, after narrowly missing out in his last SEA Games ten years ago when he won silver. That experience remains one of his proudest memories.
“It was something that I least expected. Malaysia is usually the strongest because they have the most support, but when I was there, I beat the number one bowler from Malaysia. That was one of my happiest moments,” he laughed as he reminisced.
He remains optimistic about doing well this year, despite the tough competition he expects to face. “They always say the ball is round. On that day, if luck is with you, you can overcome any difficulty. So we always have a chance, definitely,” he said.
CHALLENGES IN COMPETING
However, Radiance and Tee Chiak also admitted that the course of their sporting journeys does not always run smooth.
For Radiance, the main challenge she faces is balancing between her studies and training.
In many ways, Radiance is not that different from other children her age. She is a Secondary One student at Nanyang Girls High School, and goes for tuition twice a week. In her free time, she enjoys playing badminton and frisbee with her neighbours, and takes care of her pets, which include a dog, a guinea pig, and stick insects.
However, on top of all that, Radiance trains five days a week with the Optimist National A team. Her packed schedule often means that she has to wolf down her lunch in the car as her grandmother ferries her around from place to place.
Even though Radiance only began secondary school this year, she has already missed six weeks of lessons due to overseas competitions and training. She will miss another two weeks for the SEA Games. To make up for this, Radiance brings her homework along on overseas competitions, and arranges for consultations with her teachers early in the morning before classes begin.
Radiance has a league of dedicated and "supportive" classmates and teachers who keep her in the loop through WhatsApp and email. Her mother, Mrs Koh Theng Theng, also keeps in close contact with her teachers to ensure that she is coping well at school. She also enters Radiance in various overseas competitions to build up her exposure. Mrs Koh, a former windsurfer herself, believes that the mental and physical strength built from sailing "complements" Radiance’s studies.
Radiance's family plans also revolve around her training schedule. This means shorter family vacations, or sometimes, even “none at all”.
However, what keeps Radiance soldiering on is her love for the sport, which she describes as “relaxing” and a “break from school”.
When asked about her major setbacks in her sailing career, Radiance laughed, and recounted an important qualifier race in 2013 which would determine her spot in the national training squad. Right before the race, a sailor collided into her brand new boat, making a huge hole. Her coach encouraged her not to cry, and she went on to emerge champion in the race.
Her perseverance in the face of failure is something she hopes will encourage other young athletes. She said: “Even if you fail, you can do do it again, you can succeed again.”
BACK TO WORK
Tee Chiak, who is two generations older than Radiance, faces a totally different set of challenges.
While Radiance is often short of time, he has an abundance of it, as he has been retired for more than 2 years. His only commitments are lawn bowling training sessions which take place thrice a week, and golfing with his “kakis” on the weekend.
However, this also means that Tee Chiak has no steady source of income. After the SEA Games, he hopes to retire from competitive lawn bowling and go back to the workforce to continue making a living.
“I’m not working because of this. It’s not fair if I go and find employment again and work for two months, and take three weeks off,” he said. “Presently, I’m practically doing nothing, waking up anytime I wish, going anywhere I want, but no income. Whatever savings, everyday you spend, is all gone.”
Tee Chiak also admitted that he can get lethargic when training sessions are held under the hot sun.
Another issue weighing on Tee Chiak’s mind is the future of lawn bowling in Singapore. While he believes lawn bowling is a sport for all ages, the majority of the bowlers in Singapore are above 50. He said the lack of succession in the community is a problem.
“This is not like tenpin bowling. The problem with this game is that it’s too gentle and slow, so youngsters don’t like it,” he said. “You’ll find that there are usually no spectators, even for our national games.”
However, in spite of all these challenges, both Radiance and Tee Chiak are confident that the passion for their sport will go beyond their competitive career.
Radiance, who hopes to becomes a veterinarian in the future, said she “definitely” sees herself sailing at a recreational level even then, while Tee Chiak said he will continue lawn bowling until he is “not able to walk properly and is forced to stop”.