Mak­ing a splash

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - People - – N. Rama Lo­han

IT was like hav­ing the rug pulled from un­der­neath her feet ... or be­ing blind­sighted and get­ting hit by a curve ball. Noth­ing could be more de­mor­al­is­ing at that point in her ca­reer, but Malaysian Olympian syn­chro­nised swim­mer Zy­lane Lee was dealt a crush­ing blow when part­ner Ka­t­rina Ann Hadi opted to re­tire from the sport sud­denly.

“It was very de­mo­ti­vat­ing when she re­tired with­out any no­tice. We were pre­par­ing for the Olympic qual­i­fiers and my dreams just went down the drain in a split sec­ond. I only got the chance to work with her for a year ... at that time we were still get­ting used to each other’s ap­proach,” shared Lee, re­cently.

Rather than let fate knock her off her sad­dle, the 25-year-old sol­diered on with a new part­ner, mean­ing, there was some re­turn­ing to the ol’ draw­ing board.

Her new wing­woman is Gan Hua Wei, an 18-year-old who brings a dif­fer­ent style to the ta­ble, coax­ing Lee to make some ad­just­ments, though a col­lec­tive goal re­mains – win­ning the ul­ti­mate ac­co­lade at KL 2017, the 29th SEA Games in Malaysia. So, how is the new pair get­ting along?

“So far, so good. Both Ka­t­rina and Hua Wei have their own tal­ents. We are work­ing to­wards

what the judges want to see, rather than fol­low­ing our hearts and do­ing what swim­mers like,” she said. The duo are favourites to sweep the first three gold medals at the games in solo and duet events. And hon­ing their trade at the 7th Open Make Up For­ever Syn­chro­nised Swim­ming Cham­pi­onships in France, China Open in Taiyuan and Ja­pan Open in Tokyo this year, can only put them in good stead.

How­ever, well be­fore Lee even ar­rived at the point where she was hold­ing her breath un­der­wa­ter and en­gag­ing in a unique up­side down dance, she was just a tyke who tagged along with her sis­ter to mum’s syn­chro­nised swim­ming lessons. “I was five when I got into syn­chro. My mum taught me the ba­sics when I got cho­sen to rep­re­sent the coun­try. At that time, syn­chro was still new, so, I was the only one in my school who was into it.”

Some­thing about it drew her in more than swim­ming or div­ing. “Syn­chro is dif­fer­ent. We need to be able to swim like a swim­mer and do stunts like a diver. So, syn­chro is more like swim­ming and div­ing com­bined, with music like the cherry on top of a cake,” Lee re­vealed, choos­ing her words care­fully to de­scribe the sport.

What might have merely seemed like an aquatic pre­oc­cu­pa­tion soon turned into more. She learnt that danc­ing was part and par­cel of a syn­chro­nised swim­mer’s bag of tricks. “Be­fore I started, I didn’t have any back­ground in dance. I started to swim just af­ter I learnt to walk. Af­ter years of syn­chro and the help of the National Sport Coun­cil (MSN), bal­let classes were pro­vided as part of our train­ing,” she ex­plained.

Her devel­op­ment train­ing was far breezier than the rigours of to­day; “When I started, my ses­sions were just three times a week. When I be­gan rep­re­sent­ing the coun­try, it got in­tense, and now, I train at least eight hours a day, six times a week. Ses­sions on public hol­i­days will be even longer.”

While the phys­i­cal­ity of the sport it­self looks dif­fi­cult, what with the sub­merged pirou­ettes, leg waves and what not, there are some hid­den chal­lenges that re­ally test the hu­man spirit, but Lee has fig­ured out how to lit­er­ally grin and bear it. “Ev­ery­thing in my sport is chal­leng­ing, from hold­ing our breaths to stay­ing up­side down in the wa­ter while let­ting our legs move. And please don’t for­get, when we com­pete, we don’t wear gog­gles. With our burn­ing eyes and scream­ing lungs, we still need to smile through­out the whole rou­tine,” she said, de­scrib­ing the agony one has to en­dure in the name of syn­chro­nised swim­ming. A syn­chro swim­mer needs to be backed by a va­ri­ety of qual­i­ties and abil­i­ties, and Lee reck­ons she’s got what it takes. Af­ter all, she is rep­re­sent­ing the coun­try. “Dis­ci­pline and per­sis­tence. I’ve gone through so many ups and downs, and since I’ve been able to con­tinue and get this far, I think I have both those qual­i­ties,” of­fered the Bach­e­lor Of Sci­ence and Food Tech­nol­ogy de­gree holder.

It’s only nat­u­ral for a sportsper­son to look at another in the same event for in­spi­ra­tion, but Lee’s source of mo­ti­va­tion comes from a per­son who thrashes it out in a court, in­stead. “Datuk Ni­col (David). She’s a very down-toearth per­son. She takes fail­ure to another level ... in a pos­i­tive way, to get back to the top,” she said, laud­ing Malaysia and the world’s squash queen.

When not send­ing her lungs to burst­ing point at var­i­ous aquatic cen­tres, the KL na­tive en­joys trav­el­ling, scuba div­ing, wind surf­ing and rock climb­ing. For now, it’s about go­ing for gold at the up­com­ing SEA Games.

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