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.