For International Women’s Day 2021, we share with you stories from our women athletes who have persevered for their love of sports.
"Every woman's success should be an inspiration to another. We're strongest when we cheer each other on" - Serena Williams
Dr Hazel Ramos
Associate Dean (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences), 44
I have a chronic illness called Idiopathic Thrombocypenia Purpura (ITP), a platelet disorder. In July 2019, my platelet crashed to 1 (normal is 150) and I was in danger of bleeding out. Coming out of it, I made it my goal to tick off my bucket list- one of which was finally learning how to swim, my fourth attempt since childhood.
There was once, I tired out midway in the pool and Coach actually had to jump in to rescue me. Fast forward to Feb 14, 2020- the first time I swam 50m non-stop, I cried when I reached the deep end of the pool. That was 4 months after I started my lessons and just 7 months after I was in critical condition.
So many times I’ve been told I can't do things because of my illness. And many times I also say back, I can just try.
“Being brave doesn’t mean you are not scared. When you are scared but you still do it anyway, that’s being brave.”
Retired nurse, mother, 60
I have wanted to learn swimming all my life. I attempted it multiple times before, but never followed through because in my mind, I keep thinking I am going to drown. I almost drowned when I was a child.
I tried again at 56. At my first class, I couldn't go into the water and sat at the bench for 30 minutes until Coach convinced me to enter the water. Over the next 30 minutes, all we did was blow bubbles in the water. I realised I could do it and it was actually the fear in my mind that I had to let go of. It was a long journey, small steps every time - the timing of breathing, meditation, focus, and eventually I could swim.
After all these years, my fear of water has gone completely. I can go to a 50m pool on my own, swim 18 laps and enjoy every moment of it.
"For women at my age who are going through menopause, swimming relaxes your mind, it takes away the anxiety and helps you sleep better. For me, it makes me feel young and energetic."
Mental health counsellor, 28
I started my first swimming lesson on my 25th birthday, 3rd September 2018. It was a gift for myself after coming out of a down period of my life. I decided to celebrate my life by taking up the challenge to overcome my fear in swimming since childhood.
My personal journey started from being unable to swim (no skills & incapacitated by fear) to swimming in an open water event. I remember practising and swallowing pool water almost every day; the moments of trying to overcome my fear by swimming with the swim squad in the early mornings; the panic attacks I had in the open water swim and just kept trying to move forward.
It is all these little ‘keep trying’ moments that made me feel truly empowered, knowing that I am tenacious & resilient in overcoming challenges.
“Sports is a celebration of what your body can do. It is also a celebration of your inner strengths. You will be amazed that you can perform different movements and endure through pain."
Business owner & mum, 39
I swam competitively between the age of 7 to 16. Swimming competitively taught me discipline and perseverance, as we train daily; sometimes even twice a day when nearing a competition. This mental endurance permeated into other parts of my life like school, work and even with family.
I returned to swimming after a 10 year hiatus, right after giving birth to my second child. Going through the process of regaining the strength and fitness that I once had was tough. I recall it was less than 3 months after giving birth when I did the CSS sprint set called the 'Spike Set'. I remember feeling nauseated, thinking my body was giving up. I had to dig deep and tell myself "just one more sprint!", and then another; and finally made it.
I don't think being pregnant should limit me from swimming or doing any sports within reason. Swimming with my third now feels amazing and would be awesome if I can maintain my pre-pregnancy pace!
"Women have the mental and physical ability to endure a lot more than we give ourselves credit for."
Self Employed, Long distance open water swimmer, 41
I learned how to swim at 3 years old, taught by my father who was a competitive swimmer back in the 50's. We always had choices of clubs to go to as children and that is how I fell in love with the swim lifestyle. In 2008, I tried my first sprint triathlon and after several events, I realised that it was swimming that I loved.
Swimming in the open water intrigues and gives me a real sense of adventure. Given that I cannot even run or walk the distance I swim, the sense of accomplishment I get after a long swim event is incredible. Some events I have done are the 6.5km Kapas Marang race, a 10km and 15km Caramoan Swim. What I am chasing for is to race in the Morocco Swim Trek (a 6 day event in the Sahara Desert!) and to achieve a good ranking in the Global Swim Series- I'm currently ranked 45 out of 709 participants around the world for my age group.
Being an avid open water swimmer, I have changed my diet completely to a Low Carb High Fats diet (LCHF) as my body performs better. I want to be able to swim till I'm 80 years old and still keep up with it!
"It is never too late to learn. Always believe in yourself."
Teacher, Open water swimmer, 30
I fell in love with underwater life during a vacation and set a goal to learn to swim in spite of my water phobia. During one of my lessons, I met someone who suggested that I give open water swimming a try to truly overcome my fear of the deep blue sea. I did, and it was true- to overcome our fear, we have to immerse ourselves in it. I am now an absolute swim/water addict.
Swimming helped me find my zen and encourages me to challenge my limits. I remember being a nervous wreck at my first open water event. I wanted to pull out but was luckily approached by wonderful people who encouraged me not to. They even cheered for me as I was completing the race. I was truly touched by the warmth and love by the community that day. My dream swim is the Oceanman Oitylo Bay and hence I am taking one small step at a time; to be more disciplined with training.
For me, sports is a reward to myself- as a platform to destress, build meaningful relationships, positively challenge myself and to genuinely have fun!
"As a Muslim woman, swimming never shunned me from my faith. Choosing to immerse myself in the vast body of water has allowed me a window to be further awed by the Creator."
PATRICIA LIM POH KAM
Business owner, Ironwoman, 39
I ran in the Port Dickson Triathlon relay in 2014 and was inspired by female triathletes who could do all 3 disciplines. That was when I took up adult swim classes 101! I used to be easily sick, but swimming made me healthier and fitter.
Once I could do all 3 disciplines, I joined many races. I've taken part in several 70.3 and Ironman races around the world. My most memorable event though, was Ironman Frankfurt 2019 where I DNF. They denied the use of wetsuits for the swim. The cold made my muscles tense up and I could hardly breathe. The scorching hot bike leg then left me unconscious; I got sent to the hospital in an ambulance. Instead of feeling down about it, this DNF made me come back to Malaysia, train harder for my following race (Challenge Iskandar Puteri 2019) and ended up being the Champion in my age group.
I am aiming to do more Ironman events and next, to hike around the world, besides ageing actively and gracefully.
"Take up a new hobby or sport so that you can have a goal to achieve in your life. You will be surprised at what you are capable of."
EMILY WANG HUELSERMANN
Full time mum, Triathlete & Open Water Swimmer, 42
I grew up being active and loving sports. I was a dancer first, then a volleyball player, then came running, cycling and triathlons. I only started swimming regularly to stay fit during my 1st pregnancy; I even swam up to 2 days before I gave birth! It was 6 years ago when I truly fell in love with swimming, when I discovered open water swimming.
I swam my longest distance of 24km around the Perhentian Islands in Dec 2020 which I am so proud of! I've competed in many events, but my most memorable moment would be my first 5km swim in Oceanman 2017. I was so nervous when it started, but came out of the water absolutely hooked! My goal is to swim in every place I visit, in as many countries as possible; and hopefully, to complete a Channel swim one day!
As an athlete and a busy mother, I've learned to multitask and include my children in what I do. My motivation is that even in my old age, I can race with my kids. One day, I hope that our entire family can cross an Ironman finish line together.
"CHALLENGE yourself. Be Brave. Go for something you've always wanted to try! Who knows-you just might get hooked!"
THONG WING YEE
Masters Student & Passionate Swim Coach, 25
I’ve been an athlete since I was 5 and have always been a very driven girl to get the things that I set my mind to. I was a competitive swimmer until the age of 14, a captain for the Perak water polo team, and a national dodgeball player which brought me to the World Cup in Madison Square Garden, New York City. My career as a national athlete was cut short when I got into a car crash, but that brought me back to swimming, and into the open water swimming (OWS) field.
My most memorable OWS event would be the Tanjung Biru 10km swim. I was injured right before the race, wasn’t even able to lift my arms up. I went to the chiropractor to fix me up with tapes to hold my shoulder blades in place, rested for one full day and managed to finished 5th in my age group (literally the 3rd OWS in my life!). I really wish I can compete in more OWS races in and out of Malaysia, and hopefully place somewhere in the top few. I guess the bigger the challenge, the more I want it, and the more I will work for it. I have been body shamed and doubted my whole life. So being able to excel as an athlete boosts my morale, discipline and teaches me perseverance.
What motivates me in OWS is actually my squad mates. I am inspired by the amount of training they put in despite their age, background and busy work/ family life. In turn, I would like to inspire them as a coach they can count on.
"Set a goal, work towards it, achieve it. Nothing is handed to you on a silver platter. Earn it, and earn it with dignity."
ALYCE OOI LEE TZE
Passionate Coach, Triathlete & Open Water Swimmer, 35
I’ve always loved sports but I stopped half way during school because I was told that 'sports are for boys'. Because of it, I always felt like a part of me was incomplete but I was lucky to have found sports again in adulthood. Prior to becoming a coach, I had a desk bound job and that drove me crazy; so I started running, then took up Brazilian jiu-jitsu and finally tried triathlon.
I joined my first triathlon without proper training and came out of the water last! That led me to seek professional lessons (with MySwim of course). I fell in love with swimming and started swimming everyday. From a 3:00/100m pace, I dropped to 2:30, 2:00, eventually 1:45 and now I’m working towards shaving off 1-2 seconds in my time. I was proudest when I finished Top 5 in my age group at the Port Dickson International Triathlon 2020 because 4 years ago, it was the same event that I struggled to complete.
I became a swim coach to inspire more adults to swim. From student to coach, I am able to put myself in my students' shoes. Often I even mimic the poor techniques of my students to find the best way to improve them. Hence naturally as a triathlete, I also became a Tri-coach, endorsed by the International Triathlon Union. Despite coaching full time, I make sure that I still train everyday. I wish to improve myself in every way and to finish strong in an Ironman 70.3. I believe I will be able to do it, in the same way I believe my students can achieve their goals if they put their minds to it.
"The best performers are not consistently great, but they are great at being consistent. Slowly but surely, even a 0.1sec of improvement is worth celebrating."