Coach Alyce Ooi shares her difficult journey and perseverance through sports, to finally becoming the swim and triathlon coach she is today.
I attended the 2021 WOWSA Coaches Education Program International Virtual Clinic (South East Asia) Live with Coach Sid Cassidy yesterday. Thanks Team FINIS and speaker Coach Sid Cassidy for sharing, as I found that process of bringing open water swimming to the Olympics very inspiring. “Nothing great is easy”, the famous quote of Captain Matthew Webb, which was truly shown in this process. I am lucky to be born in this era as I am able to enjoy open water swimming, thanks to the commitment and hard work of the older generation and senior coaches who fought for it.
Something about the commitment and belief that “If you want to be Elite, never quit! Keep on going…” said by Coach Sid Cassidy yesterday that made me reflect and write about my early experiences in sports, which shaped me as the open water/ triathlon coach that I am today. I’ve always loved sports but there were many obstacles along the way that stopped me from fulfilling my dreams, until I reached adulthood.
Prior to becoming a coach, here is my journey through sports:
Trying my best to go into sports, such as basketball, taekwondo, I even tried water polo; all this was before 2006, before 20 years old
In adulthood, after 2011 when I was 25, I got back into sports with jogging (first run event was the Adidas Run 2013), took up Brazilian jiujitsu in 2014 and finally found open water swimming and triathlon (first triathlon event in 2015).
A little bit about my background: The meaning of my name ‘Lee Tze’ (丽诗), homonymic in Chinese actually means ‘lawyer’(律师). Maybe what my family hoped for me and what I really am are two totally different worlds. I can’t deny that my parents did their best to let all of their kids to be well educated, planning the best pathway for us, hoping our lives would be easy and smooth. For myself, my minimum standard for my academics is ‘study not to fail’, which I did it! Retakes/ repeats in any subject never happened and I got until a Bachelor’s degree in Multimedia and Graphic Design. 1 year after graduation, I was financially independent. However, I never gave up my dream for sports, and just needed to find my own way to break through.
Primary school at Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (Cina): At the beginning, I was chosen to represent the school basketball team but it was probably a good thing that my mum pulled me out from the team as the school teacher’s words were not appropriate. Can you imagine that he could shout: “can you jump any lower than that shorty（矮婆）”, or “run faster fatty（肥婆）”. He was rude and acted like a savage, there were never any good words that came out from his mouth.
After I moved to secondary school, Sekolah Kebangsaan: Most of the girls hated Sports Day but I so enjoyed it and loved it, because I get the chance to collect medals. I became a sports freak in those 5 years of secondary school.
Coincidentally, I got to join the basketball team again with my elder sister. In that year, there were 2 strong female senior players in the school team and one of them managed to get into the Kluang district team (it is very hard to get selected for the district team because you need to fight for the slot with Chong Hua High School which had so many well trained female basketball players).
In my last year of secondary school, that was my last chance to fight to get into the Kluang district team. After all the seniors graduated, without a court or a captain/coach for basketball, I tried to form a female basketball team again to represent our school. They were mostly my best friends who did not know how to play but were dragged in to support and help me get the approval to represent our school. Kluang is a very small town so at that time, basketball was dominated by male players. I learnt all the skills playing in street basketball and as the only female in the court, you never have a name, they just call you “zha bo” (that girl) or even ruder words. Of course I was not happy but I was competitive, I was beating some of them, showing them that I was never worse than the boys (who said sports are only for boys?). I focused on improving my skills and aimed to get myself in the district team. There was nothing else in my mind other than to get the proper training to lead me to my dream, to find my way to achieve what I want to be. Well reality is cruel, it didn’t lead me to the path that I wanted. I lost my last chance to get into the district team, I did not get selected, there was nothing I could do. That became the end of my basketball journey. I was so sad but I moved on…
In my last 8 months in secondary school, I was still finding my way to go into sports. The other sport making selections was taekwondo so I gave it a try. In my first attempt, I got gold amongst the school team and got selected to represent the district. I was so happy, but it didn’t go smooth either as I was injured while practising with a male teammate. The power for males and females differ quite substantially which I wasn’t aware of then and tore my Anterior Tibialis Muscle. I was not able to stand on the spot, the pain was so bad it was hard to breathe. I was very scared to let my family know so with my limited knowledge in first aid at the time, I used “zambak” cream to rub it hard and hoped for it to recover, but actually made it worse as it got more swollen and painful. My grandmother then took me to visit one of her friends - a very old man who practised Traditional Chinese Medicine (I think, because he used herbs) for treatment. My mum was so upset after finding out about my injury as she felt I was neglecting my studies with sports, which she felt girls should not be doing in the first place. She stopped talking to me for a few weeks. It felt like a very harsh punishment and there was the end again for my journey.
College time at Tunku Abdul Rahman College: I had the chance to join the water polo team with my elder sister again. I could float but didn’t know how to swim properly. I was introduced to the ‘S pull’ in freestyle at that time, I learnt a bit here and there. After training with so many great swimmers in the water polo team, I as just a beginner learning to swim, vomited after every training session. I had no luck to meet any coach to learn from at that time while YouTube was not so popular then and the internet speed was too slow, so I didn’t pick up water polo in the end. I spent the rest of my 5 years of college student life without any sports.
Today: Even though my journey through all these sports did not give me a great experience of success but they taught me so much, including how important is the role of great educators and coaches. Because of all the scars that I have been through, I am doubly appreciative of what I am now. I believe that it is never too late - change is for those who are prepared so I grabbed my chance in my late 20s to be an assistant swim coach with Coach Shauqie (my first coach; mentor and best colleague) and started my new journey in my 30s. I am finally in the arena that I fought so hard for for almost one third of my life. I learn from my scars and never stop learning. That is how I relate to “Never quit… keep on going…”.