Strokes of gold

Swim­mers Car­men Lim and Yoong Chung We are all fired up to com­pete among the best in the 9th Asean Para Games, start­ing this Sun­day

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By MELODY L. GOH star2@thes­tar.com.my

Car­men Lim was taught to al­ways be­lieve in her abil­i­ties. So, this gutsy teenager from Se­lan­gor has set her heart on win­ning gold at the Asean Para Games, on top of ace­ing her ex­ams.

STRIK­ING a good bal­ance in life can be dif­fi­cult for some peo­ple, es­pe­cially for hor­monal teenagers who are just start­ing to find them­selves.

For na­tional swim­mer Car­men Lim, how­ever, know­ing her pri­or­i­ties is key to get­ting that bal­ance and ul­ti­mately achiev­ing her goals.

Car­men, 17, is an ath­lete in the 9th Asean Para Games, which begins this Sun­day in Kuala Lumpur. She is also sit­ting for her O-Lev­els this year, and her school – Sri Kuala Lumpur in Subang Jaya, Se­lan­gor – is cur­rently hold­ing trial ex­ams for stu­dents.

“It is more tir­ing than stress­ful, re­ally. I don’t get enough sleep. But as long as I keep my fo­cus, I think I should do all right in the exam and in the Games,” she said dur­ing a week­end train­ing ses­sion at the Na­tional Aquatic Cen­tre, Bukit Jalil Na­tional Sports Com­plex in KL.

Car­men does not usu­ally train with the na­tional swim­ming team. In­stead, she trains with her coach, Loke Chee Heng, and her school team the Sri KL Sharkies, every day.

“It’s a lit­tle far for her to come all the way to Bukit Jalil every day, so she is al­lowed to train at her school,” said Car­men’s fa­ther Lim Chee Kiong, who was at the aquatic cen­tre that day.

Ac­cord­ing to Lim, he and his late wife de­cided to send their daugh­ter for swim­ming lessons at age five be­cause of her con­di­tion; Car­men was born with­out a left arm.

“As much as pos­si­ble, we wanted to pre­pare her for all the things that could hap­pen to her in the fu­ture. And it was im­por­tant for us that she learnt how to swim – a sur­vival thing.

“We have also drilled into her since she was young that just be­cause she is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent from ev­ery­one else, it does not mean that she is in­ca­pable of do­ing a lot of things,” Lim ex­plained.

When Car­men was in pri­mary school, a fam­ily friend had sug­gested to Lim that she join swim­ming com­pe­ti­tions. How­ever, as she was study­ing in a Chi­nese school at the time, Lim was wor­ried about the work­load.

“I thought it would be tough for her to tackle both school work and com­pe­ti­tions, so we let that sug­ges­tion pass,” Lim said.

As she got older, Car­men’s pas­sion for swim­ming grew and when she was in Year 2 of sec­ondary school, she took part in her first com­pet­i­tive event.

“I didn’t dis­cour­age her, and nei­ther did I en­cour­age her be­cause I didn’t want to seem like I was push­ing her to do some­thing she might not re­ally want to do. But she was so de­ter­mined! And she has a strong pas­sion for it, too, so I sup­ported her in all the ways I could,” Lim con­tin­ued.

From then on, Car­men was un­stop­pable. Apart from com­pet­ing in Malaysia, she has also gone for In­ter­na­tional Par­a­lympic Coun­cil-sanc­tioned swim­ming meets in Croa­tia, Hol­land and Por­tu­gal. Dur­ing her first Asean Para Games in Sin­ga­pore in 2015, Car­men was not only the youngest ath­lete in her cat­e­gory (S8 Sport Class), she also broke the record in the 50m freestyle event.

One year later, she broke that record while swim­ming in the 18th Malaysia Para Games in Kuch­ing, Sarawak. At the same event, Car­men was crowned Best Fe­male Ath­lete af­ter win­ning five medals and break­ing four na­tional records.

At the up­com­ing Asean Para Games, Car­men will be com­pet­ing in the 100m back­stroke, 50m and 100m freestyle. Her best event is the 50m freestyle.

Along­side her at the time was her team­mate, na­tional swim­mer Yoong Chung Wei, who was named Best Male Ath­lete for his four gold-medal haul. This year, Yoong, 22, will be com­pet­ing in the Asean Para Games for the third time.

Dur­ing his last par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Games, he took home six sil­ver medals.

“I like win­ning and break­ing records. When I don’t win, I will tell my­self to try again and do bet­ter next time. Train harder, be stronger,” said Yoong, who swims in the S14 Sport Class.

Yoong hails from Pe­nang and has been swim­ming since he was 12 years old. He took his time to an­swer ques­tions, and was a lit­tle ner­vous dur­ing the in­ter­view. Per­haps he was not com­fort­able speak­ing to a stranger. See­ing this, Car­men helped him out by telling him to speak to her in Man­darin in­stead, and then she trans­lated his quotes into English.

“He will be com­pet­ing in two re­lay events as well as in­di­vid­ual ones. The na­tional team trains for four hours a day in two ses­sions – two hours each time. It’s hard work and can get very tir­ing but he likes that he gets to com­pete for his coun­try and make ev­ery­one proud,” Car­men noted.

As for her, she feels that while study­ing and train­ing may seem dif­fer­ent, they pose the same chal­lenges.

“I think they are both equally chal­leng­ing but it is all in how you ap­proach them. You also need to stay fo­cused and work on one thing at a time. For me, my ed­u­ca­tion has al­ways been my top pri­or­ity – swim­ming comes second,” she re­vealed, adding that she will be head­ing to Wales next year to do her A-Lev­els.

Her fa­ther is con­fi­dent that she can han­dle any­thing that comes her way and that she knows how to man­age her time, and, to an ex­tent, stress.

“I be­lieve we have given her a good foun­da­tion in the first few years of her life. In terms of ed­u­ca­tion, she is a pretty strong stu­dent. She is good at bal­anc­ing her work and time, so I am not too wor­ried about her in that re­spect,” said Lim.

Also con­fi­dent of her and Yoong’s per­for­mance in the Games is Li Xin Xin, who coaches the na­tional swim­ming team. This is Li’s first Asean Para Games, but she has been coach­ing the team for about one and a half years now.

Over the past few months, in prepa­ra­tion for the Games, Li has seen a lot of im­prove­ment in the ath­letes. She noted that the coun­try’s strong­est op­po­nents in swim­ming come from In­done­sia, Thai­land and Viet­nam.

“The swim­mers com­pete in sev­eral dif­fer­ent Sport Classes, so I don’t have a sin­gle set of rule or style of coach­ing for ev­ery­one. How­ever, we usu­ally put more fo­cus on strength train­ing be­cause for swim­mers, you need to main­tain the same amount of power through­out the dis­tance and that’s dif­fi­cult to do for some,” ex­plained Li, who hails from Bei­jing, China.

As the day’s first train­ing ses­sion ended, Li re­minded the swim­mers to pick up af­ter them­selves and to not leave any­thing be­hind. The ath­letes don’t get spe­cial treat­ment be­cause of their dis­abil­i­ties as they don’t re­ally need it (Car­men did get Loke to help put her swim­ming cap on, though). They were able to get in and out of the pool by them­selves, even the ath­letes who were wheel­chair-bound.

Some of them de­cided to hang around the aquatic cen­tre to watch the pho­tog­ra­pher take pic­tures of their team­mates and coach.

“Wow! Psst, psst!” said a swim­mer, teas­ing Car­men when she was asked to pose by the pool. They may not train to­gether all the time, but the na­tional swim­mers al­ways sup­port each other as they all share the same goals.

“I hope all the ath­letes achieve what they have worked so hard for. Whether it is to win or just to beat their own records and climb higher in the rank­ings, I know they can do it,” said Li.

Yoong, with his past Asean Para Games ex­pe­ri­ences, shared some ad­vice. “Just do your very best, don’t think about ex­pec­ta­tions – yours or any­one else’s. You will never know how strong your op­po­nents are, or how strong you your­self can be dur­ing com­pe­ti­tion. Just don’t think about any­thing else but what you need to do when you are in the water,” he said.

As for Car­men, she noted that the Asean Para Games is the be­gin­ning of a pro­fes­sional swim­mer’s ca­reer. “It’s im­por­tant that you do well so you re­ally need to con­cen­trate on that, to work on your tim­ing. It is the path­way to big­ger com­pe­ti­tions, like the Par­a­lympics!”

Car­men was the Best Fe­male Ath­lete at last year’s Malaysia Para Games, and she will be aim­ing for gold in four events at the up­com­ing Asean Para Games.

Yoong likes win­ning and break­ing records.

— Pho­tos: ART CHEN/The Star

Car­men and Yoong get­ting point­ers from the na­tional swim­ming coach Li Xin Xin.

— LOKE CHEE HENG

Car­men with her coach, Loke, at the 2015 Asean Para Games in Sin­ga­pore.

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