Women we love

Esquire (Singapore) - - Portfolio | Women We Love -

CHOO YI XUAN: “Weh ave been a team for al­most eight years and this is our first ma­jor win as a team. It was real emo­tional. Be­fore the com­pe­ti­tion…” KY RAP OH :“We thought we did our best. Even be­fore the re­sults were an­nounced, my mom started cry­ing and Yi Xuan started cry­ing when she saw her cry­ing.” CHOO YI XUAN :“We all had a good cry .”

Kyra shows me a video of the ex­act mo­ment when they were an­nounced as the win­ners. They hug each other, the tears flow­ing freely.

Their win isn’t easy. In fact, noth­ing in their in­door sky­div­ing ca­reer was handed to them on a plat­ter. Be­fore FAI, the pair were at the Asia­nia Cham­pi­onship and their train­ing oc­curred dur­ing their ex­am­i­na­tions. But what made their win all the more mirac­u­lous is the sheer de­ter­mi­na­tion ex­hib­ited by teenagers. Maybe it’s the un­fair la­bel that the younger gen­er­a­tion in­her­ited: that they are en­ti­tled, hands out for a char­i­ta­ble pay­out. Maybe it’s the yawn­ing gulf of our age gap that re­vealed our pri­or­i­ties at 16 (“Was I ever this am­bi­tious?” “Did I ever ex­cel at any­thing on a world­wide scale?”).

Out of their uni­forms, Kyra and Yi Xuan look like your runof-the-mill teenagers. They use words like ‘un­cle’ when they re­fer to a fam­ily friend or words like ‘like’. They con­verse in the quaint short­hand of teen­speak that leans to the side of awk­ward, prob­a­bly be­cause there’s a nosey adult in front of them shov­ing a recorder in their face.

It’s an oft-told tale about their en­dur­ing friend­ship: in 2011, Kyra, then aged 10, and Yi Xuan, then aged 11, met at a swim club. One day, when they were done with classes, Yi Xuan’s fa­ther was late to pick her up. Kyra’s fa­ther didn’t think that Yi Xuan should be left to her own de­vices and sug­gested she join him and Kyra to meet Kyra’s mother, who was film­ing a com­mer­cial for a ver­ti­cal wind tun­nel on Sen­tosa.

Called iFly Sin­ga­pore, the in­door sky­div­ing sim­u­la­tor wasn’t open to the pub­lic but Kyra’s mother, Car­olyn, was hold­ing a try-out for friends and fam­ily to be in the video. Kyra and Yi Xuan had never seen any­thing like it be­fore. Through the dis­play, they saw peo­ple sus­pended in midair be­fore they som­er­saulted or glided against the wall. Kyra was sup­posed to fly in the ver­ti­cal wind tun­nel and she con­vinced Yi Xuan to join her. See­ing their stints in the wind tun­nel Lawrence Koh, iFly Sin­ga­pore’s founder, asked if they could per­form at the open­ing cer­e­mony. It was the per­fect show­case: the cute­ness of chil­dren hav­ing fun in a safe en­vi­ron­ment. Car­olyn has a rel­a­tively en­dear­ing term for them: ‘show mon­keys’.

But later, the show mon­keys would hear about the Sky­div­ing World Cham­pi­onships and en­ter it; that was when they started to be se­ri­ous about the sport.

CHOO YI XUAN: Our school­mates and teach­ers are very sup­port­ive of what we do. Once in a while, our close friends will ca­su­ally joke, ‘eh, in­door sky­diver’. ESQ: You’ re speak­ing for your­self, right? CHOO YI XUAN: Yeah but I’m sure it’s the same for Kyra. KY RAP OH: Peo­ple are very in­ter­ested be­cause it’s such a new sport. For my school [SOTA], it’s nice that they are sup­port­ive, even though what I do isn’t an art form. Peo­ple can’t wrap their heads around the fact that I’m en­rolled in an art school and I’m do­ing some­thing that’s sports-re­lated. It’s cool that my school sup­ports it as much as a sports school does.

ESQ: Is there a down­side to this? CHOO YI XUAN: Of course. I think in [Kyra’s] case it’s more stress­ful. Aside from in­door sky­div­ing, she still has her school­work. As much as her school is sup­port­ive of her, she still has to sub­mit her work like any­body else. KY RAP OH: There’ s a lot of jug­gling. CHOO YI XUAN: You’re do­ing an IB (In­ter­na­tional Bac­calau­re­ate) Pro­gramme, her [cur­ricu­lum] is su­per long. KY RAP OH: But I’d also put a lot of pres­sure on my­self. I want to do well aca­dem­i­cally and at fly­ing.

ESQ: Can the pub­lic at­ten­tion be too much? CHOO YI XUAN: Now we have to do even bet­ter. Or at least, main­tain. We have to keep im­pro­vis­ing new stuff. KY RAP OH: But at the same time, we’ re spread­ing aware­ness about the sport. Be­fore we started win­ning, be­fore news of in­door sky­div­ing was even men­tioned, not many peo­ple knew about this sport. Ev­ery­one thought it was a tourist at­trac­tion. For the long­est time, we were the only Asians who were in the top five. CHOO YI XUAN: Now there are other Asian rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the scene.

ESQ: What’s needed to do what you do? KY RAP OH: Sac­ri­fices. Will­ing­ness to train. I’m sure that any­one can fly but I don’t think that any­one can train as hard as we do or sacri­fice as much. I don’t think they would want to.

ESQ: Was there ever a time when you felt like quit­ting? CHOO YI XUAN: I mean, we have to think the best of sit­u­a­tions, right? KY RAP OH: Some­times when I get upset, I would say ,‘ oh my God, I hate this’, but I would never in­tend to quit. CHOO YI XUAN: Well. I quit two years ago.

There was a point in time that the duo be­came a solo act. Af­ter a poor show­ing at a com­pe­ti­tion, Yi Xuan took a sab­bat­i­cal. It was tak­ing a toll on her; she needed to dis­con­nect and re­assess her pri­or­i­ties. Mean­while, Kyra forged ahead, try­ing to bet­ter her­self and fo­cus. Yi Xuan’s de­ci­sion to leave didn’t in­clude a dis­cus­sion with Kyra but the die had been cast and each had to live with the con­se­quences.

Yi Xuan would re­turn to Team Fire­fly. Her bur­den is al­le­vi­ated thanks to the Sin­ga­pore Sports School (SSP) al­low­ing her to drop her swim­ming ma­jor and fo­cus on in­door sky­div­ing. But Yi Xuan would have re­turned to the sport even if SSP didn’t have an op­tion to drop a sub­ject. Her break al­lowed her to re­cu­per­ate and, filled with a re­newal of en­ergy, Yi Xuan took to fly­ing along­side Kyra again.

ESQ: What’s an av­er­age day for you? CHOO YI XUAN: A month be­fore the ac­tual com­pe­ti­tion, we’d train al­most ev­ery day.

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