NEW CLARK CITY, Philippines: You can’t succeed if you train in Singapore.
You only won an Asian Games relay medal because of teammates like Joseph Schooling.
You can’t do it.
The naysayers make noise, but swimmer Darren Chua doesn’t listen.
“I’m the kind of guy that likes to prove people wrong,” said the 19-year-old.
“A lot of people tell me that I can’t do it because I train in Singapore. I’m like: ‘I’m going to prove you wrong, I’m going to show you that I can do it.’”
And show them he did. Chua took to the pool in his debut SEA Games - winning five golds - two in individual events and three in relays.
Chua competed in the 4x100m individual medley, 4x100m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle, helping set two new Games records in the process.
In his individual events, Chua upset defending champion Welson Sim in the 200m freestyle, then stunned defending champion Schooling in the 100m freestyle.
Both timings were personal bests, a fitting riposte to those who had told him his 2018 Asian Games relay bronze was only due to teammates like Schooling or Quah Zheng Wen.
“I want to prove to people that individually I can do it as well,” said Darren. “It’s really one of the motivations that helps me really want to prove them wrong.
“I am an individual swimmer and I can win a gold medal.”
AN UNORTHODOX PATH
While this is Chua’s first SEA Games, he had already competed at a higher level - the 2018 Asian Games - before the Philippines.
Chua, along with Schooling, Quah and Darren Lim combined to bag a bronze in the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay at the Asiad, setting a new national record.
“The experience at the Asian Games really helped me a lot, winning the bronze was my first major games medal,” said Chua.
“There was a lot to learn from that competition, how I raced with bigger, stronger and faster swimmers.
“It gave me a lot more confidence and trust in myself that I’d be able to race in these competitions.”
Coming into this SEA Games, the 19-year-old was eyeing wins in the relays and possible top three finishes in his individual events.
“I was just expecting to win the relays for sure because the Singapore team is so strong and (for) individual events I wanted to get podium (finishes) every time I made the finals,” Chua explained.
“My coach Leonard (Tan) told me to not focus on the future and what you can get - just focus on the process, so that really helped me a lot to race in the finals.”
What Chua attributes much of his success at the Games to is a strong support system.
This extends from his family, to his teachers and his coaches.
“(Some) swimmers always think Singapore is stressed out because with school and everything you can’t really train properly and the environment just sucks,” said Chua, who is studying at Temasek Polytechnic.
“I think you just got to manage it properly and for my part my school really helped me a lot. Temasek Poly really gave me so much support that I was able to train together with (going to) school ... there’s a lot of support in Singapore that no one really appreciates.”
His school has been instrumental in their help, providing flexibility for when he is able to take exams and allowing him to extend the length of his course from three to five years, explained Chua.
“The teachers are so understanding and they really help me a lot,” he said. “They’ve messaged me to congratulate me - and my teacher told me I’ve been causing a buzz in the office!”
And Chua is keen to prove that he can succeed without having to train overseas.
“I feel like I’m not missing out at all because I’m improving every time I race. Coach Leonard is such a good coach for me so I don’t really want to change up anything just because people say training overseas is better,” he added.
“In Singapore it’s so comfortable, there’s so much support around, I don’t think I can get that overseas. There are so many great coaches in Singapore and I really want to stay here and train.”
READ: ‘I’ve got a lot of work to do’ - With Olympic qualification sealed, Joseph Schooling vows to improve physical condition
Following his SEA Games golds, Chua has a clear goal - Olympics qualification in the 100m and 200m freestyle.
“I’m going to train even harder, and show people that I’m going to the Olympics next year.”
Chua trains twice a day, every day of the week. But before he gets up in the wee hours of the morning to head to the pool, his parents are already hard at work.
“Every morning, my dad would send me to training at 5.30am ... My mum wakes up earlier to prepare my stuff so I can get in a bit more sleep. She will cook for me every day, so that I can go back to have a good nutritious meal," he said.
"My parents sacrificed a lot. I really want to thank them. Everyone contributed. My family, my friends, my teachers, my coaches.
“Everyone helped me get to where I am right now, if I didn’t have them, I wouldn’t be here.”
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