Olympic athlete Joan Poh’s twin passions – rowing and nursing – are linked by a common thread.

Both require her to be completely immersed in the moment, putting aside all other distractions to focus on the task at hand.

“When I’m a nurse, I’m 100 per cent the nurse, to make sure I do not short-change my patients,” she said. “And when I’m rowing, I’m 100 per cent focused on rowing.”

On some days, it can be challenging to meet the demands of trying to excel at both, said Ms Poh, 30, a member of the national rowing team.

She said: “Of course, there are other things screaming at you in the background, all your other responsibilities.

“It does mess with your head a bit, but you have to mitigate that and be present in your nursing responsibilities, and every stroke and kick I take at training.”

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Ms Poh, who works at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, took more than 20 months of no-pay leave to train for the Tokyo Olympics in Japan.

But when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, she returned to work – juggling long training sessions with eight to 10-hour shifts at the hospital. In her Olympic debut, she finished 28th out of 32 competitors.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 29), held up Ms Poh as a shining example of what it means to be “the best of being Singaporean”.

He said despite the Covid-19 crisis, Singaporeans have continued to look ahead and pour their heart and soul into their hopes and dreams.

“In ordinary times, we may not realise how strong Singaporeans can be. Now, in the crisis of a generation, we have shown ourselves and the world what Singaporeans can do,” Mr Lee added.

He also said Singapore has many things to be proud of, from its healthcare system to its civil service, public infrastructure and national reserves.

Yet, the country’s greatest strength is its people, who have remained united, resilient, steadfast and resourceful even in bad times, he said.

Mr Lee said his mind was on Singapore’s everyday heroes as he watched the National Day show last weekend.

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“Our people, our unity, our shared dreams – they give meaning to our National Day,” he said.

Wrapping up his speech, Mr Lee said Covid-19 will not be Singapore’s last crisis.

“We will surely encounter more trials on the road ahead. We will be tested again, sometimes severely,” he said.

And as these trials come, he added, each generation will wonder if Singapore will survive, prevail, and stay together as one people.

“My answer: We have done it before. We will do it again.”

This article was first published in The Straits Times.