10 empowering women of the SEA Games that inspire us to get more out of life
Move over SEA Games hunks, we've got the heroines in town...
The 29th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games kicked off in Kuala Lumpur (where there are tons of good street food) over the weekend, with 404 events in 38 sports. Contingents from countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Timor Leste, Vietnam and Thailand are flying in, ready to compete.
Among them are worthy women – title holders, defending champs and rising stars. We shine the spotlight on 10 women appearing at the SEA Games, who have inspiring stories to tell.
In 2013, former teacher Chan won Singapore’s first gold medal in cycling at the SEA Games in 16 years – right after a recovery from a serious car crash just months before that event. And in 2015, she battled through Chronic Fatigue Syndrome to get to the Games then, where she was then struck by a bout of food poisoning. Despite this, she won a bronze for Singapore. Now, Chan, a five-time SEA Games medallist, is switching to track racing (she was in the road racing category for the past five editions of the Games).
Why she’s inspiring: She’s got crazy grit. After her car accident in 2013 (which saw her suffering a concussion and fractured teeth), she got right back into the saddle – just five days after the accident. And because of her health issues, she almost gave up on cycling after the 2015 Games. But she pulled herself up, giving herself a “rehab year”. To prepare for the 2017 Games, she and her coach, Olympic gold medallist Sara Carrigan, took a holistic approach to Chan’s training, trying to balance her physical and mental states. It’s worked – Chan is now in top form. “I’ve learnt that your emotions play a huge factor. When you try to do something too hard, or are afraid of something, your muscles would be in a sense, “off.” That’s why when you’re down, you literally feel zapped of energy,” Chan told ActiveSG.
This gal has won three Olympic medals, most recently winning Singapore a bronze at the London Olympics in 2012. The 30-year-old from Harbin is Singapore’s top-ranked paddler and the world’s No. 3 paddler, but has had to fight some tough times.
Why she’s inspiring: In October 2016, the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA) shocked the nation by cutting Feng from the Singapore national team. Feng had to fight talk of alleged misconduct. Despite being emotional, she got down to business and struck out on her own, deciding to build her own support team and continue to represent Singapore. In December 2016, she proved her mettle, beating the world No. 1, Ding Ning, at the China Table Tennis Super League. Feng is now eyeing entering the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. “There are some things that you experience only through adversity, a kind of hope for survival. I saw hope in my most hopeless moment,” she told The Straits Times in an interview in 2016. She is part of the table tennis women’s team for Singapore at the SEA Games 2017, and will compete in singles and doubles events.
In July 2017, Cheong became Malaysia’s first diving world champion, taking the gold in the women’s 10m platform individual final at the World Aquatics Championships in Hungary. That victory saw her unexpectedly beating some of the world’s best – China’s Si Yajie and Ren Qian, the World Aquatics champion in 2013 and the Rio Olympics silver medallist respectively.
Why she’s inspiring: Cheong’s surprise win comes on the heels of some pretty severe back pain, which she’s been battling for over a year. The Perak-born lass has also suffered from shoulder, wrist and heel injuries that have hindered her in the past, her diving coach, Yang Zhuliang, told the New Straits Times. But she’s been training ceaselessly for the SEA Games 2017, since all eyes are on her. “A new form of pressure will now hound Jun Hoong. Everyone will be watching her as she is a world champion,” Yang said.
The young sprint queen made a splash on home soil at the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore, where she cinched the gold for the 200m sprint, setting a new national record (23.60 seconds) and winning Singapore’s first medal in sprint events in 46 years. She also won the bronze for the 100m race in 2015.
Why she’s inspiring: The 20-year-old will be defending her record at the 2017 Games, and will be gunning for gold in the 200m. She has a mantra that would inspire anyone. “Embrace the struggle and the belief in the unknown,” is her mantra, according to ActiveSG.
Part of the Malaysian contingent’s shooting squad is one name that may be familiar – Nur Suryani, who took part in the London Olympics in 2012. The 34-year-old has gone on to break national records and was hoping to qualify for the Rio Olympics last year, but missed out (read on for why). However, she’ll be participating in the SEA Games in the 50m rifle prone, and 50m rifle three position events, according to Malaysia’s The Star.
Why she’s inspiring: Nur Suryani made the news in 2012 because she made her Olympic debut while eight months pregnant. She was the first woman to represent Malaysia in shooting, and was featured in The Telegraph. The newspaper noted that pregnant athletes had competed before, but never so close to giving birth. She did not make it past the qualifiers, but still became known around the world as Malaysia’s Shooting Mum. Unfortunately, she could not travel to participate in qualifiers for last year’s Rio Olympics because she was expecting her second child, and was told not to travel by her doctor. Her hopes must be high for these SEA Games, then.
You’ve got to love a plucky teenager. The 16-year-old will be competing in eight events at the SEA Games 2017. This is her second outing at the SEA Games – she competed in only one event in Singapore in 2015: The 400m individual medley, in which she won a bronze.
Why she’s inspiring: She’s the youngest in a trio of swimming siblings – her sister Ting Wen, 24, is a multiple SEA Games medallist while her brother Zheng Wen, 20, was an Olympic semi-finalist. But she’s ready to break out as champ in her own right. She was the most bemedalled athlete at the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas, taking five golds and a silver. Her coach, Gary Tan, has coached all three Quahs and told The Straits Times that “there’s a steel to her”. “I used to measure my times with my sister’s when she was the same age,” Jing Wen told the newspaper. “But nowadays I don’t. At some point you have to judge yourself against the rest of the world… That’s where I want to have an impact.”
The daughter of reigning King Vajiralongkorn is a head-turner who’s been featured by Vogue.com, and in 2008 was listed as one of the 20 hottest young royals by Forbes. Although she is a fashion designer who first presented a collection at Paris Fashion Week in 2007 (at the invitation of Pierre Balmain, might we add), she’s also won accolades for her sporting achievements. In 2005, she represented Thailand in badminton in the South East Asian Games, winning a team gold. She then switched sports, beginning to compete in dressage at the South East Asian Games in 2013.
Why she’s inspiring: According to reports, the 30-year-old princess may lead a charmed life, attending huge fashion events and weddings of fellow royals around the world. But she works hard and is known to spurn special treatment as an athlete. Instead of choosing more lofty accommodations at the SEA Games in 2005, she chose to stay in the athlete’s village. And she may have been born with a silver spoon, but she’s also got spirit. “I always try to do everything to the best of my ability. I didn’t want to just (get into sports) for fun. If I’m curious about something, I have to know every aspect of it, become good at it, and know it deeply and widely,” she said in an interview published by the Bangkok Post in 2013. This year’s event is her last with her horse, Prince Charming, who is now 17 years old and will retire after these Games, Thailand’s equestrian team manager, Vithai Laithomya.
She made her SEA Games debut in Singapore in 2015, winning a gold. The 21-year-old, whose father was on the Philippine national team when he was younger – has been slaying it since then. She took home gold medals at the Asian Championships in 2016, and at the Korea Open in July 2017.
Why she’s inspiring: She’s willing to make sacrifices. She travelled frequently between the United States and the Philippines to compete with the national team there, giving up a “normal high school life” when she was younger, she told ABS-CBN News. The rising star also knows that defending her gold in the under-57 kilogram division at the SEA Games is going to be tough. And although she sustained an ankle injury at a recent July event, she has not stopped training. “It’s harder to stay on top rather than work your way to the top,” she told Rappler.com.
Vietnamese swimmer Vien, 20, was one of the best performers of the 28th SEA Games. Then, she took home eight golds, one silver and one bronze medal – behind only Singapore’s Joseph Schooling then.
Why she’s inspiring: She’s risen from obscurity. Her first “swimming lesson” was in the Ba Cao Canal that lay in front of her house in the Phong Dien District Can Tho City. Her grandfather reportedly took her and her cousins in his arms, swam into the middle of the canal, and swam away from them. It was up to the children to swim back to the bank, Vien’s father told the Tuoi Tre News. She was enrolled into a military-styled army school where she was away from her family, but began winning top swimming prizes, making a name for herself in the international arena and swimming for Vietnam in international competitions. She competed for her country at the 2012 Olympics and was named Vietnam’s top athlete in 2013 and 2014. At the 2013 SEA Games, she took home a whopping six medals, and broke two records. According to Xinhua News Agency, she is eyeing as many as eight gold medals in the 2017 SEA Games.
This 24-year-old wushu practitioner is one of five female artists representing Vietnam at the SEA Games this year. Vi, dubbed by the Vietnamese press as the “Golden Girl of Wushu”, won gold medals for Vietnam at the Wushu World Championships, the Asian Games, and at the SEA Games in 2013. She is known for her balletic movements, and the rigor she puts into her training.
Why she’s inspiring: She doesn’t let defeat get to her. Vi, who is skilled in boxing and Tai Chi, suffered defeat in her first international outing at the SEA Games in 2009, where she placed last in the competition. But in 2013, she cinched the gold medal at the Wushu World Championships, and a month later, also took the gold at the SEA Games then.