Joseph School­ing is in Tran­si­tion.

Esquire (Singapore) - - Portfolio -

Hav­ing just com­pleted his fi­nal Na­tional Col­le­giate Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion (NCAA) com­pe­ti­tion ear­lier this year, he has of­fi­cially shifted from an am­a­teur to pro­fes­sional swim­mer. About to com­plete his fi­nal year at The Univer­sity of Texas in Austin (ma­jor­ing in eco­nomics), he’ll soon be trad­ing in his school­books for a bach­e­lor’s de­gree. And, al­though he is the reign­ing Olympic men’s 100m but­ter­fly cham­pion—his vic­to­ri­ous fist ris­ing from the pool, af­ter beat­ing his per­sonal hero Michael Phelps in the fi­nal, for­ever etched into the minds of Sin­ga­pore­ans—at the age of just 22, he is still very much an im­pres­sion­able young adult.

“Ev­ery­one sees him as this tall and big swim­mer,” says his mother, May School­ing, dur­ing an out­fit change at our cover shoot in Lock­hart, Texas—a small coun­try town just out­side Austin. “But to me…” she pauses, tak­ing in her hand­some son dressed in a grey pin­striped blazer, smil­ing un­der a black cow­boy hat, “he’s still a boy.”

In fact, he is Sin­ga­pore’s golden boy; a propped-up bea­con by Sin­ga­porean par­ents ev­ery­where for the pow­er­ful com­bi­na­tion of am­bi­tion and dis­ci­pline. “It’s all a bit crazy,” says Joe [he rarely in­tro­duces him­self as Joseph] when I ask him about life af­ter the Rio Olympics. “Es­pe­cially when I go back to Sin­ga­pore. It’s in­tense.” And what about be­ing the first Sin­ga­pore am­bas­sador for Hugo Boss? “I’m very hon­oured,” he con­fesses, shuf­fling around in his leather boots in between shots on set—looking ev­ery bit the young mav­er­ick that he is; a mav­er­ick lead­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of Asian men and women into the sport­ing fray. “I just hope I do them proud.”

The day be­fore the shoot in Lock­hart, stand­ing around the din­ing table of his Austin apart­ment—his mother within earshot, watch­ing TV on the sofa; unsea­son­ably cold rain beat­ing against the slid­ing glass doors to his left—Joe, dressed sim­ply in a polo, could pass off as any other obe­di­ent son speak­ing with his father. “You sit here, son,” says Colin School­ing. “Yes, sir,” re­sponds Joe. “Are you ready for me to in­ter­view you?” “Yes, sir.” “Okay, let’s start,” an­nounces Colin. What bet­ter way to get into the mind of Sin­ga­pore’s Olympic cham­pion—a hero with the weight of the world on his shoul­ders lead­ing up to Tokyo 2020—than to have him in­ter­viewed by the man who has stew­arded him thus far: from son to Sin­ga­pore’s son, from am­a­teur to pro­fes­sional, from stu­dent to grad­u­ate, from sports­man to brand am­bas­sador and, ul­ti­mately, from a boy into a man.

Joseph School­ing: So, what’s up, pop?

Colin School­ing:

There’s the Asian Games, There are the a World lot of Cham­pi­onship ex­pec­ta­tions of next you year from and Sin­ga­pore then the and Olympics around again. the world. What are So what’re you looking your for ex­pec­ta­tions now? You’ve now? achieved Apart your from dream, oth­ers’ which ex­pec­ta­tions? is the Olympic gold at the age of 21.

Joseph:

just keep The get­ting only bet­ter. ex­pec­ta­tions As long that as I mat­ter can see now a good are im­prove­ment my own. My ex­pec­ta­tions from now un­til for the my­self end are of my to ca­reer, I think that’s all I can re­ally ask for. You don’t want to hit your peak plateau and start com­ing down. I think I’m still pretty young. And I think there’s a higher ceil­ing for me to achieve.

Colin: Men­tion has been made about [Amer­i­can swim­mer] Caeleb Dres­sel and his per­for­mance in the World Cham­pi­onships last year. It has been said that he hasn’t been given the proper ac­co­lades like you be­cause he hasn’t won an in­di­vid­ual Olympic Gold. What are your com­ments or what do you have to say about this?

Joseph: I think Caeleb is an awe­some swim­mer. It’s good and bad that, you know, Caeleb is not a house­hold name or has not got­ten that kind of ex­po­sure that an Olympic medal­list does. That doesn’t mean that he’s a bad swim­mer. He’s the best swim­mer in the world. I think he’ll do well in the Olympics [in 2020] and he’ll make a big­ger name for him­self in Tokyo. So not to worry about that, it’s just how it is. The ex­po­sure at the Olympics: the com­pe­ti­tion, the cul­ture and tra­di­tion, it’s dif­fer­ent than any other meet.

Colin: Do you think he will be an added in­spi­ra­tion for you to train even harder be­cause he has set a very high bench­mark?

Joseph: Yeah, of course, def­i­nitely. Caeleb has been do­ing well, and you can’t take any­thing for granted if you want to beat them, you gotta be at your best.

Colin: I think so and that’s good. Now, go­ing for­ward, you’re go­ing to grad­u­ate from univer­sity soon. Mummy and I are here in Austin now to at­tend your school ban­quet and we will come back for your grad­u­a­tion. Are you looking for­ward to it?

Joseph: Yeah, of course. I’m clos­ing a lid on this old chap­ter. It’s been a fun ride and the journey has been awe­some. I’ve had the chance to meet a bunch of awe­some peo­ple. A lot of my team­mates are like fam­ily to me. And ob­vi­ously, I’ve had my ups and downs in col­lege swim­ming and also on the world stage, but it’s all a learn­ing process. As long as you can take away what you did wrong and use that to bet­ter your­self in train­ing, then that’s all you can re­ally ask for. You worry about the things you can con­trol and you don’t worry about other peo­ple. That’s my thought process on things.

Colin: Cor­rect…

Joseph: You can’t be su­per locked onto some­thing and be hy­per fo­cused all the time. But con­sis­tency is key. No one can be their best in train­ing or at the meet all the time. But as long as you can be as con­sis­tent as you can be at the top, I think that’s the best you can do.

Colin: Mummy and I have been very happy with you since you were a baby till today. Ex­cept that some­times we need to give you your own free­dom to do what you want. Like I told mum, we have to get out and let you have that free­dom to move, you know.

Joseph: Yeah… [laughs]

Colin: But like ev­ery par­ent, we all worry. What will hap­pen to you when we let you off into the wild? [Laughs] But any­way, it’s been fun. I just hope that we have not made you an un­happy man be­cause, by bring­ing you to this level of ex­cel­lence in swim­ming, we have also pre­sented

you with the stress of expectation by oth­ers. Ev­ery­body has very high ex­pec­ta­tions of you. And you have very high ex­pec­ta­tions of your­self. So ev­ery time you’re un­der this pres­sure cooker to per­form.

Joseph: Ugh hmmm…

Colin: What made me sad is when you came in third in the World Cham­pi­onships last year in Bu­dapest, your bronze medal was seen by many as a kind of de­feat. And you ac­tu­ally won you know—third in the world! There are so many as­pir­ing young swim­mers who are com­ing out in the world now. You look at the Com­mon­wealth Games, some of these young boys who are com­ing up, you haven’t heard of them be­fore. And I think in the pur­suit of the ex­cel­lence in swim­ming and to be the best you can ever be, you will be con­fronted con­tin­u­ously with all of these tal­ents. How do you pre­pare your­self phys­i­cally and men­tally to ac­com­mo­date them?

Joseph: You just gotta, like I said, only worry about your­self. Ob­vi­ously, it’s good to keep tabs on who you’re rac­ing against, know what you’re do­ing, and what their strengths and weak­nesses are. But the most im­por­tant thing is to fo­cus on your­self. You know, that’s an easy say­ing. It sounds easy, but in real­ity, con­vert­ing it into action is one of the hard­est things you have to do in your ca­reer.

You’ve got to tune out the haters. The more peo­ple who say bad things or throw shade and hate at you, to me, that’s awe­some. Be­cause the more hate you get, the more suc­cess­ful you are.

Colin: That’s good.

Joseph: So, you know, all these fo­rums, web­sites and col­umns are for swim fans, they’re not for swim­mers. The thing is that, like Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt or who­ever, the greats in their sports tell you that you’re go­ing to be un­der the mi­cro­scope, you’re go­ing to be scru­ti­nised for ev­ery­thing you do, you’re go­ing to be killed online or what­ever, if you don’t meet peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions. But it doesn’t mat­ter. It’s all about you. It’s all about how you con­trol and present your­self. And if you don’t have a good swim, it’s all about how you come back and prove the naysay­ers wrong and have a bet­ter swim. So that’s my phi­los­o­phy on how I do things. You know, it’s pretty simple to con­cep­tu­alise, but in real­ity, you gotta go through the mo­tions.

Colin: This ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion we’re hav­ing right now, I think it’s won­der­ful. Be­cause it also gives me an op­por­tu­nity and the chance to be the devil’s ad­vo­cate. It lets me ask you ques­tions and see how you an­swer, and it gives me com­fort to know—let me tell you now di­rectly to your face—that you have ma­tured. And that makes me happy be­cause right now, like I told you, af­ter your grad­u­a­tion, I have ful­filled my pa­ter­nal care and pa­ter­nal obli­ga­tions. And I will not be both­er­ing you all the time. But it gives me com­fort to know that when I walk away, I leave a very strong in­di­vid­ual who knows ex­actly what he’s do­ing. Huh? You un­der­stand?

Joseph: Hmmm, thank you.

Colin: Daddy loves you for that.

Joseph: I love you too.

Colin: And the other thing, while we’re here, this Boss that you’re wear­ing right now. Un­for­tu­nately, I don’t have any Boss shirts here [laughs]. And I didn’t give Nor­man [ed­i­tor-inchief of Esquire Sin­ga­pore] a chance to bring some shirts for me [laughs]. Never mind, all my Boss items are in Sin­ga­pore. So Boss, why Boss? Why not Gucci or some other fash­ion houses like Gior­gio Ar­mani?

Joseph: That’s an easy ques­tion. Be­cause Hugo Boss is the best brand in the world. That’s why. They make the best-looking clothes. They do a good job.

Colin: You’re not be­ing in a com­mer­cial, are you? [Laughs]

Joseph: No, not at all. One of the best ex­pe­ri­ences I ever had in my life was get­ting my first tai­lor­made suit. They brought me to the back room, su­per pro­fes­sional, great peo­ple to work with. And it’s al­most like a kid in a candy shop for the first time. It was amaz­ing. I never knew that there were that many ma­te­ri­als, fabrics, pat­terns, de­signs. It was just a great ex­pe­ri­ence. And what’s more im­por­tant is that they are great peo­ple to work with. We have a healthy work­ing re­la­tion­ship. And like I said, if I need to look good, the suit makes me look good. So I got to thank them for that.

Colin: You re­mem­ber that day when I was mea­sured by Hugo Boss and I took some pho­tographs of my­self and sent them to you? What was your im­pres­sion?

Joseph: I was like: ‘Dad, you look like a model.’

Colin: [Laughs loudly] Even in my late 60s at the time, huh?

Joseph: I saw the cover shot y’all did at SICC for Esquire Sin­ga­pore [for the Novem­ber 2016 is­sue]. The one with you at the pool. That was pretty cool. I showed the is­sue to all my friends and they were pretty im­pressed.

Colin: That’s your friends. My friends were think­ing: ‘My good­ness, this Colin, I think drink­ing and al­co­hol has taken over him.’

Joseph: [Laughs loudly]

Colin: [Laughs] Even for me, I also learnt that Hugo Boss took me from a peas­ant to a very fash­ion­able chap, and showed me what is a clas­sic suit—how is it made, what are the things that go into mak­ing a suit. Now I can tell when a per­son wears a suit, if it is hand­made or is bought off the rack. So they’ve taught me the ex­per­tise. And it’s phe­nom­e­nal to see if they should use pad­ding or not. Good suits don’t use so much pad­ding. Things like that. And what kind of a thread they use. Even the but­tons are made from horns. Wah, I tell you, it’s fan­tas­tic.

Joseph: Dad, that was a good ex­pe­ri­ence…

Colin: And even for me when they took my mea­sure­ments for my shoes, it was by laser, you know. They took a laser and went round. I’m wait­ing for those to come out. Did they do it for you?

Joseph: No, not yet.

Colin: No? Not yet.

Joseph: Be­fore we go on, just touching back on the point you made, or the ques­tion you asked about, if ex­pos­ing me to all this made me an un­happy per­son. I would say ab­so­lutely not. Um, you know, in ev­ery­thing we do in life, there are go­ing to be dif­fer­ent stres­sors and whether be­ing pres­sured by other peo­ple or by your­self to per­form in your sport—or if you’re a big-time CEO from a For­tune 500 com­pany, be­ing pressed to bring in bet­ter re­sults—there are all sorts of stres­sors in life.

Just be­cause many many peo­ple have high ex­pec­ta­tions of my­self and it au­to­mat­i­cally puts more stress on me, it doesn’t mean that it’s any dif­fer­ent to the stres­sors that nor­mal work­ing peo­ple face in their every­day lives. So ev­ery­one has to go through this. We’re not spe­cial, as ath­letes. We’re no dif­fer­ent. We might have a dif­fer­ent train­ing regime or dif­fer­ent sched­ule through­out the day. But at the end of the day, it boils down to how you cope with that stress, how you im­prove on your re­sults no mat­ter what field you’re in. And the most im­por­tant thing is to love what you do.

Colin: Cor­rect.

Joseph: That’s the num­ber one thing. So if you love what you do, which I do, there’s no rea­son you should be un­happy. You can be un­happy at a prac­tice be­cause you didn’t do well or at a swim meet be­cause you didn’t swim as fast as you wanted to, but over­all, the big pic­ture, I would say of course I’m very happy to have the best par­ents in the world…

Colin: Ah, thank you…

Joseph: …and some of the best friends any­one can ask for. So as far as my hap­pi­ness is con­cerned, I’m happy. Very happy over­all. And this is all be­cause of you and mum.

Colin: Thank you. Well, we love you so much and you’re the only one that we have. That is why some­times we tend to be over­pro­tec­tive. You know it. When you’re not back at a cer­tain time, there goes mum’s alarm. [Laughs]

Joseph: [Laughs] The mum police is gonna getcha.

Colin: [Laughs] You know this is all for a good rea­son, son.

Joseph: Yeah. For sure. I know I’m a play­ful guy and like to have fun. So, I def­i­nitely need to have some­one like mum to keep me in check.

Colin: What gives us com­fort is that when we walk away from here, and walk away from this whole sit­u­a­tion, we know that you’re in good hands. In good hands with your­self and with your own mind. Dis­ci­plined. You’re ma­tured lah, you know. If you don’t do well, if you don’t put in the re­quired ef­fort, and if you don’t fare well, don’t cry about it man. Be­cause you’re just as good as the amount the ef­fort that you’ve put in.

Joseph: Yes, sir.

Colin: Talk is cheap, as they say. If you sit down there and say that you want to be the world champ, you got to put in the time and ef­fort. You know that, son.

Joseph: Uh hmmm.

Colin: Austin. Amer­ica. You’ve been here since you were in Grade 8. And now, you’re go­ing to fin­ish univer­sity. What has UT or Amer­ica done for you, son? In terms of ex­po­sure, in terms of the sys­tem and so forth.

Joseph: Ob­vi­ously, Sin­ga­pore and Amer­ica have two dif­fer­ent cul­tures. So I grew up in Sin­ga­pore, and I was ac­cus­tomed to Sin­ga­porean cul­ture and stuff. But then I had to come to Amer­ica, a place half­way around the world, to go to board­ing school and, like you’ve said, I was 13 to 14, never been away from home all by my­self. I’d say, Sin­ga­pore kids, in gen­eral, are pretty priv­i­leged. Com­pared to some of the peo­ple I’ve seen over here. For me, you and mum have al­ways spoilt me, grow­ing up. I never had to make my bed, never had to do laun­dry, never had to do dishes or any chores, you know. So I grew up very priv­i­leged.

And, when you threw me into board­ing school, sud­denly your whole world turns up­side down. It’s def­i­nitely a hard process, for sure. It’s hard to ac­cli­ma­tise, you have to find new friends, you have to go un­der a new school sys­tem, all these dif­fer­ent things fac­tor in. And it was prob­a­bly the hard­est year of my life.

Colin: But you know I had to do it eh? That’s what you call bap­tism by fire.

Joseph: Yeah, I know.

Colin: You had your own maid, you had your own driver, you had your own car. Ev­ery­thing was taken care of. But you know some­thing, like I told your teach­ers in school, you re­ally made me proud. Be­cause you could hack it and you could do it. With­out cry­ing and grum­bling about it. You

never grum­ble about tak­ing care of these chores you know, to mum and me. Did you know that? Like some of the kids that have never been ex­posed and they start grum­bling, that’s some­thing else. Luck­ily daddy could af­ford a lot of things. Thank good­ness, got to thank the good Lord.

Can you re­mem­ber, when grow­ing up, what was my main em­pha­sis for you in life? What strikes you the most?

Joseph: ‘Be an of­fi­cer and a gentle­man.’ That’s one of the quotes that stuck with me. That phrase en­com­passes so many dif­fer­ent mean­ings and so many im­por­tant life val­ues.

Colin: To be an of­fi­cer and a gentle­man. It cov­ers a lot of things. In my per­cep­tion of life, things must be very simple and very force­ful. Then it car­ries a lot of weight, you know what I mean? You can see a lot of beau­ti­ful things, to quote from Shake­speare, Gandhi or Bud­dha, but if it doesn’t strike you, it doesn’t strike you.

Like I tell other peo­ple, I don’t want to be the rich­est man in the ceme­tery, which is why we went to Jack­sonville. We got a home. Mum and I sac­ri­ficed six months of the year to look af­ter you. Be­cause we wanted you to have good val­ues. We want you to be a young adult, groomed into good habits and man­ners, you know?

Joseph: Uh hmmm.

Colin: A lot of peo­ple tell me: ‘Colin, you’re very lucky that your son is so well-man­nered.’ This is not lucky, okay.

Joseph: [Laughs]

Colin: [Laughs] They for­got the amount of work that has to be put in. But any­way, I thank the good Lord that you have come up the way you have. That’s why a lot of peo­ple right now are looking for­ward to spon­sor­ing and ex­pos­ing you. That makes me happy be­cause you have suc­ceeded in sell­ing or pre­sent­ing your­self—that you are a worth­while can­di­date to be spon­sored. You are a worth­while can­di­date to be ex­posed. You are a worth­while can­di­date to be mar­keted. And you have done well in that.

Joseph: Thank you.

Colin: And now the peo­ple be­lieve in you. That’s the key you know, son. You al­ways re­mem­ber that these are the peo­ple that put you there and you must try to never dis­ap­point them.

You know, when I saw you sign­ing au­to­graphs and you’ve got these lit­tle fel­las stand­ing be­side you, and some­body said to you, ‘Joseph, you gotta go be­cause the boss is wait­ing for you’, you said: ‘No. I will fin­ish sign­ing all the au­to­graphs for the chil­dren.’ That touched my heart. That means you care. [It’s not about] how big you are or how fa­mous you are. You make sure the lit­tle fel­las are taken care of be­cause they spent the whole day wait­ing for you, and you didn’t want to dis­ap­point them. That touched my heart.

From the side. I was watch­ing you and I thought, that’s good. Those are good val­ues, son. And never for­get that. No mat­ter how fa­mous you are. You re­mem­ber your shit never smells good, you know.

Joseph: [Laughs] Ab­so­lutely.

Colin: [Laughs] I don’t know if this is the right thing to say, and I don’t care. And I mean it.

Joseph: That’s true. There’s no point sug­ar­coat­ing facts [laughs].

Colin: What have you ben­e­fited [laughs]… from mum and me?

Joseph: [Laughs] Well, the thing I’ve ben­e­fited from you, it would be prob­a­bly be­ing very struc­tured. Mum and I can def­i­nitely be a lit­tle late some­times, and we def­i­nitely need you to keep us in check. I think the at­ten­tion to de­tail would be the most im­por­tant thing I’ve got­ten from you.

In all your e-mails, even though you don’t need to write es­says, when you re­ply some­one, you do it. Be­cause you don’t want there to be any doubt in your mind whether you’ve left out some­thing—you want to get your point across. And that’s the def­i­ni­tion of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Say­ing some­thing that the other party will un­der­stand or re­mem­ber.

Colin: That is why when I was teach­ing English part-time to chil­dren, I played a tape and told them to lis­ten very care­fully. English is spo­ken in var­i­ous places of Amer­ica dif­fer­ently. You look at the Cana­di­ans. You look at the English, and the Ir­ish and Scot­tish. All of them are speak­ing English. But they are all dif­fer­ent. The key to com­mu­ni­ca­tion is when I speak to you about some­thing, com­mu­ni­cat­ing with you on any mat­ter, if I have spo­ken some­thing and you un­der­stood me, then I’ve suc­ceeded in my means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. That is com­mu­ni­ca­tion to me. I don’t give a shit if you slang and say: ‘Hey baby, how’s it hang­ing?’. If I say some­thing and you can un­der­stand what I’ve said, I have suc­ceeded in my quest.

Joseph: What have you learned from me?

Colin: What have I learned from you? Very simple. De­ter­mi­na­tion. You are also dis­ci­plined in your own ways. Un­til and when you’re in Na­tional Ser­vice, then you will un­der­stand the mean­ing of be­ing on time. Till then, a lot of peo­ple are quite ca­sual about time. I am not ca­sual about time. If it is 10 o’clock, I make sure I head to the show­ers at 9:15, be­cause Nor­man says he’s com­ing at 10 o’clock. [Laughs] So I have to make sure that I don’t want to be caught with my py­ja­mas on. So I make sure ev­ery­thing is cleared—I cleared my break­fast. And mummy got to wash and clean ev­ery­thing. And we wait for our guest to come. And spot on, Nor­man came at 10. It makes me happy.

Joseph: Dad, you were on the cover of Esquire Sin­ga­pore many months ago. And I’m hav­ing a photo shoot with them to­mor­row morn­ing. So my ques­tion is, what are some tips that you can give me? I’m not sure what the scene is yet, but if it hap­pens to be in the pool with a suit on, I know I can al­ways come to you with good ad­vice.

Colin: [Laughs] To­mor­row I’ve al­ready told Nor­man to leave me out of the equa­tion. I’m go­ing to watch the Masters golf fi­nals.

Joseph: [Laughs]

Colin: Just en­joy it to­mor­row. So they are go­ing have you for two, three hours or what­ever. Just be happy and go with what they do. You know what I mean? These guys have flown in all the way from Sin­ga­pore to pho­to­graph you. I think it’s a priv­i­lege.

Joseph: It is.

Colin: To put you on their mag­a­zine is a priv­i­lege. All I can say is that if they are ded­i­cated enough to sac­ri­fice their time, then we also have to re­cip­ro­cate.

Joseph: I agree. That’s good ad­vice.

Colin: Now for both par­ties, it’s busi­ness. If you will be ex­posed [through this shoot], then they have done their job. About hav­ing the right pos­ture when mod­el­ling? They are the ar­ti­sans. They will be able to know. We just go along with them and just be a good model lah. [Laughs] They will be able to prop­a­gate to the oth­ers in the in­dus­try how good you are.

Joseph: Yes sir.

Colin: So that’s my ad­vice to you. En­joy it and be good at what you do.

Joseph: I like it. [Laughs]

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