Competitive swimming training for kids in Singapore: what it’s really like

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It is 4.45am and grandmother Lye shakes sisters Genevieve and Madeline Lye, 15 and 13, from their slumber.

The girls hesitate for a minute, rub their eyes and shake off their gold-medal dreams before starting a routine they have been following for a decade now.

Yes, the Lye sisters were just four when they started working on their dream to become competitive swimmers.

While other teenagers might gripe about the early hours, both girls  competitive swimmers at Swimfast Aquatic Club  are eager to get going.

4.30am Mum Jennifer is the first to wake up. She prepares breakfast.

4.45am Genevieve (above) and Madeline are woken up by their grandmother and prepare to head out.

Related: Swimming lessons for kids: 4 things to look out for 

5.15am Jennifer drives the girls to the Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) swimming pool while they eat in the car.

Now they say there is an extra spring in their steps, thanks to Joseph Schooling‘s gold medal and Olympic record swim.

Genevieve tells The New Paper on Sunday: “I am really motivated by him. A win by a Singaporean makes this feel worth it, that victory is all very possible for us.”

Being a competitive swimmer is a family affair, and sporting excellence means everyone in the Lye family has to be involved and committed.

Much like Schooling’s parents.

Genevieve and Madeline’s grandmother is responsible for waking them up. But even before the girls’ early reveille, their mother, Madam Jennifer Lye, 41, is already preparing breakfast and loading their schoolbags in the car.

5.30am It’s morning training for the girls while Jennifer waits for them by the poolside. Once training ends, the girls change into their school uniforms and are driven to Methodist Girls’ School.

BEFORE & AFTER SCHOOL
Before school, their first stop is the pool for the morning session. They have another training session in the afternoon, after school. The girls train in the morning only on Saturdays, and they get a break on Sunday. Mrs Lye’s job includes driving the girls to their home, school and the swimming pool.

8am Genevieve and Madeline attend school while Jennifer heads home to do housework.

2.30pm Jennifer picks the girls up from school and drives them home. The girls spend the time studying and grab a half-hour nap if they are tired. On Mondays and Thursdays, Genevieve has piano lessons.

“I need to be around to support them, drive them around. You can’t expect them to have this kind of schedule and take the bus,” she says. Because their daily schedule is so tight, Genevieve and Madeline eat and study in the car. Every minute counts.

At the pool, Mrs Lye unfolds her chair that she brought from home and watches the girls closely as they swim more than 5km daily. 

And she is not the only parent at the pool. Like the other parents, Mrs Lye doesn’t distract herself with a book or tablet computer to help her pass the time.

4.45pm It’s back to the pool for the afternoon training, which is tougher than the morning session. Again, Jennifer waits by the pool.

She says she enjoys watching the girls swim. “Sometimes, they ask me after the session, ‘Mummy, did you see me swim so fast today?’ If I didn’t watch them, I wouldn’t know what to say,” she says.

Mrs Lye says it is not a case of parents forcing their dreams on their children, as she is not a competitive swimmer herself.

“Genevieve started swimming to help treat her asthma problem while Madeline started afterwards to follow her ‘jie jie’ (Mandarin for big sister),” she says.

“When Genevieve won a competition for children years ago, she wanted to start training competitively.”

 

Related: Parents rush to enroll kids in swimming lessons after Joseph Schooling’s Olympic gold

7.30pm Training ends and they head back home to recuperate, eating their dinner and doing their homework in the car.

10pm Genevieve and Madeline go to bed, unless they have to study for tests or examinations the next day.

HECTIC
Little did she expect that her daughter’s decision would mean trading her life for a hectic daily schedule. Their father, who works at a supermarket chain, is the sole breadwinner of the family.

Genevieve says: “Dad is always working hard and late into the night to pay for all of this.”

But the sacrifices have paid off as Genevieve has broken meet records for 13- to 14-year-olds in the 800m and 1,500m freestyle events. Shealso went to Paris, Berlin and Moscow this week to represent Singapore in the Fina World Cup.

All of this with the family’s own money, as they do not have any sponsor or scholarship. Mrs Lye says: “Swimming can get really expensive. Training costs $200 a month (for each person) and that is not counting the swimming costumes, sports therapy sessions and massages.”

She says she has not totalled up the amount spent so far.

There is little space in their five-room flat in Boon Lay to display all the medals and trophies too, so Mrs Lye packs them away in boxes.

Watching her mother after an exhausting day, Genevieve tells TNPS: “I know that she sacrifices a lot to send us here and there. I know it isn’t easy.

“She motivates me to swim harder, and I want to do well to not disappoint her. I feel grateful and lucky that she is here.”

Related: What is synchronised swimming for children?

 

A version of this story first appeared in The New Paper. 

(Photos: Ariffin Jamar/TNP) 

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