Interview: Leaping Forward – Michelle Sng

Michelle’s Sports Achievements:

Gold medallist, High jump, SEA Games 2017

Bronze medallist, High jump, SEA Games 2015

1.   How did you get started in high jump and how did you know that was the sport for you?

When I was in Secondary 1, there was an inter-class Sports Day. No one else in my class wanted to sign up for high jump, so I decided to give it a shot. Knowing nothing about high jump, I relied on internet searches to learn more, and I ended up winning at Sports Day. Back then in Singapore Chinese Girls School, there was no school track team. Nevertheless, I trained on my own and competed at the National Schools Championships.

Actually, I was not very serious about high jump till much later. Besides high jump, I was actively involved in classical dance, netball and gymnastics. One day, my coach advised that I should focus on just one sport to compete at a higher level. It was a choice between dance and high jump. While I enjoyed dancing, I did not see myself going far on a competitive level, whereas I was already the top high jumper in Singapore. Thus, I chose high jump and fully committed myself to it.

2.   Your personal journey is nothing short of inspirational. After deciding to hang up your boots in 2011, you made a fairy-tale comeback to win the SEA Games Gold medal last year. Tell us more about why you hung up your boots and what brought you back?

Back in 2007, I felt a great deal of stress and pain on my jumping leg. I went to Germany to undergo an operation, but I could not jump as high as before and it was immensely painful whenever I jumped. The doctors said that I was fine and the pain could be psychological. I thought that perhaps a change of scenery would be beneficial and left Singapore to train in Malaysia. However, things did not improve and I became heavily reliant on pain-relieving medication. So I made the heart-wrenching decision to retire.

In 2011, I was travelling in Vietnam together with a fellow high jumper. After climbing a mountain, she asked how my leg was and I realized it was not hurting anymore. It dawned upon me that perhaps the pain was really psychological. However, I had already moved on and did not intend to look back.

It was not until 2013 that I got involved in high jumping again. My former coach informed me that Singapore was hosting the 2015 SEA Games and invited me back. I rejected the offer to compete but started helping out as an Assistant Coach. While coaching, I began jumping recreationally but felt a lack of satisfaction. This led me to start training competitively again.

It was very mentally challenging – I wanted to give up on numerous occasions. I was worried about my old injury and the psychological pain returning. Fortunately, I had strong support from my team-mates. My form returned after 4 – 5 months of training, hence I chose to make a comeback in the 2015 SEA Games.

3.   From your first jump to a SEA Games Gold medal, what has your journey taught you as an individual?

From my experience, the most important lesson that I have learnt is to be patient. Most athletes lack it because they are go-getters and want to see results quickly. It is always frustrating not to see results. However, I believe that everything happens at the right place and time. It took me a longer time to achieve what I had hoped to achieve years ago. But if you hang in there, good things will come. I strongly believe that this applies to all other aspects of life as well – keep working hard towards your goals and you’ll eventually see results!

4.   We hear that your mom is highly supportive of your sports pursuits. How instrumental was she throughout your journey?

I am highly fortunate to have a Mom who is always super supportive of all my choices since young. She allowed me to make my own decisions – be it in choosing my primary school or learning netball and gymnastics. Even when I decided to take an extended gap year to travel the world, or when I quit my job to train high jump full-time, she stood by all of my decisions.

Mom is always there to watch over me too. She watched and encouraged me at every single one of my competitions. At a point where I was participating in so many competitions, I told her that she didn’t need to be at all of them, just the major ones. However, she still turned up at the smaller competitions and hid and watched from a corner. After one of these competitions, I remembered her texting me to ask how did the competition went. And my reply was – “Mom, I saw you watching there!”

5.   Any secret advice for our aspiring young sports talents out there?

The most important thing is to enjoy what you are doing and to enjoy the process. Compared to team sports, individual sports can get a little lonely at times. So, one must find joy in it, otherwise it becomes a chore. Life is too short – we should only do things that make us happy!

Thank you for your advice, Michelle! We wish you the very best in your future endeavors!

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