It’s okay to fail: 5 Singapore women athletes on picking yourself up after a setback
A five-part short film series titled Anatomy Of An Athlete gives a glimpse into their tenacity and determination, and inspires us with some important life lessons.
When 27-year-old Singaporean windsurfer Amanda Ng fell and injured her knee badly just two days shy of the start of the Olympics qualifiers in Oman in April, a doctor who attended to her said that she “wouldn’t be able to compete (for the qualifiers) anymore”.
Ng said: “At that moment I felt so hopeless, and I was really so upset with myself for being so careless before an important race.”
The story, as we know, didn’t end there. Ng managed to turn things around, eventually qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, where she finished 25th (out of 27) in all the qualifying races in the Games.
“Getting through the ordeal in Oman with victory was really a miracle,” she shared.
Ng was recounting her experience in the Anatomy Of An Athlete series, which debuted on Jul 21 and is a tie-up between local short film platform Viddsee and consulting firm Deloitte.
Each episode takes you through a day in the life of five Singapore women athletes – besides Ng, the other four featured are 29-year-old powerlifter Farhanna Farid, 26-year-old golfer Jen Goh, 35-year-old boxer Leona Hui, and 22-year-old shooter Martina Veloso.
The series is part of Viddsee and Deloitte’s #fACE campaign (short for Female Ace), which aims to empower women to stay the course despite life’s challenges.
Andrea Boo, who directed the series, said: “We are in a world where femininity is being defined and redefined. Growing up as a woman in Singapore, the struggle as a creative has been very real too. This collaboration has shown me how different we each are, yet still with so much more in common.”
Here are some life lessons CNA Lifestyle gleaned from the series.
1. FAILURE BUILDS CHARACTER
Setbacks can either cripple you or make you stronger.
Take golfer Jen Goh. In her episode, she referred to an injury that caused her right arm to be immobile for 26 days, which led her to see different doctors, neurologists and pain specialists to “fix her arm”.
Despite the resulting three years of uncertainty, she said she was “grateful for her injury”. It was during that period that she developed a “much better relationship with golf”.
“The time when I felt the most alive was when I didn’t have an arm,” Goh said, adding that she “never really stopped and smelled the roses” when she was at the peak of her achievements.
“Had I been a professional golfer right from the outset, I think I might really be unhappy today,” she said.
Similarly, Ng said she learnt to embrace life’s challenges, “just riding the waves and growing stronger through each adversity”.
Boxer Leona Hui also shared advice on overcoming failure: “There is a saying in boxing that goes: You either don’t win or you learn. Work on the stuff you need to work on, and keep on coming back stronger every single time.”
2. FOCUS ON THE JOURNEY, NOT THE OUTCOME
When shooter Martina Veloso took a two-year break from her studies to focus on competing, she was crushed when she didn’t achieve her goals.
“I call myself a perfectionist. I won my first gold cup medal (at the 2014 International Shooting Sport Federation World Cup) at the age of 14. And because of this, it set the bar very high for me,” she said.
Even though winning was “all that she wanted”, she learnt that accepting losses was part of the process. “I am not able to win every single competition. There will definitely be ups and downs,” Veloso said.
As Goh put it: “It’s about learning to enjoy the journey of getting there, not just focused on the outcomes.”
3. LOOK AT THINGS FROM A BROADER, LONG-TERM PERSPECTIVE
“On the way to the winning moments, you definitely struggled a lot but no one sees,” Veloso said. But her experience has taught her to look at things from a “long-term perspective”.
“While it’s nice to win, it is definitely the losing moments that have brought you up to that platform,” she said.
Meanwhile, Hui is thinking ahead in helping to ensure that Singapore has a community of women boxers who can compete in the years ahead.
Although women's boxing is considered an “obscure” sport (it only became an Olympic sport in 2012), Hui remains hopeful about the future. “Maybe it’s a bit too late to hope for a gold medal in two or three years, but who knows? Maybe in five or 10 years. Every country that won a gold medal starts somewhere, right?”
4. REPETITION IS THE KEY TO MASTERY
If there’s one thing the women athletes in the series have in common, it is their determination to put in hours of training.
“It means reserving my weekends for water training and having to wake up at 5am on the weekdays for my cardio sessions. And then rushing off to the gym in the evenings after work,” Ng, who is an audit associate at Deloitte, said.
Hui, too, wakes up at 4.30am during competition season, goes for a run at 5am, then heads to work after. After the workday ends, it’s off to the gym to train.
“It was like rinse and repeat every single day. It was really tough but I do love boxing because it taught me a lot about resilience and tenacity,” she said.
Referring to the bull’s eye in shooting being the size of a full-stop in a newspaper, Veloso shared how constant practice helps. “Imagine having to shoot that for 40 times or 60 times. But that’s how you achieve the perfect shot.”
5. DON’T LET GENDER STEREOTYPES STOP YOU
As a female powerlifter, Farhanna knows a thing or two about gender stereotypes when it comes to this “relatively niche sport” in Singapore.
“Most have the impression that it’s just for men, and they involve grunting, burly, violent lifting in the gym. But I have seen women looking very graceful and elegant while lifting,” she said.
Coming from a conservative family also meant the support to pursue her sport didn’t come easily. “Is it going to hurt you? Are you going to be able to have kids?” Farhanna said, recalling her family’s concerns.
“I fell in love with powerlifting because there was a mental aspect as well. When people underestimate my capabilities, all the more I want to break misconceptions,” she said.
Similarly for golf, Goh said: “There is so much strength in women just being women. There is no need to be masculine or try to be someone else you are not.”
Hui’s advice in overcoming gender stereotypes hits all the right notes: “Tenacity in women is a beautiful thing. Don’t be so hard on yourself. There’s always going to be a better day ahead.”
Watch Anatomy of an Athlete here.
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CNA Women is a new section on CNA Lifestyle that seeks to inform, empower and inspire the modern woman. If you have women-related news, issues and ideas to share with us, email CNAWomen [at] mediacorp.com.sg.