17 April 2014
Underneath that cheerful and smiley exterior lies an intensely passionate and driven sportswoman.
Sitting on the edge of the pontoon, the cheerful, giggly and very smiley Saiyidah Aisyah happily answered our relentless questions despite the intense heat. It’s hard to imagine that only a few minutes ago the same Saiyidah Aisyah exuded such absolute concentration and intensity. It’ll make mere mortals cower and beg for mercy.
But it’s this attitude that drives Singapore’s very first individual SEA games gold medallist to better herself during training. It’s no easy feat mind you, as Aisyah’s training takes up every single day of her week.
“I start training at six a.m. on weekdays,” she said. “We’ll go down into the water and row about 16-20km. Then I’ll rush to work.”
Training continues during either lunch time or in the evening when Aisyah goes for a run or hit the rowing machine in the gym. Weekends are a little more intense with a two-hour rowing session followed by an hour’s break. After that, training continues with an indoor session consisting of machine or core exercises or running.
“The second session is usually indoors because sometimes it’s a bit too hot and uncomfortable to row and we’ll just not be as efficient,” she said.
A single scull, like the Aisyah is on, costs about $16,000 euros. Oars excluded.
Aisyah’s call to rowing came out of the blue in 2004 when an ex-national rower saw her going at it on the rowing machine in secondary school and asked that she try out rowing as a sport. Aisyah turned out to be a natural.
“After one month of rowing in the boat, I actually won a competition with my partner. We got third and that motivated me to continue rowing,” she said, with a smile.
It was still very challenging for Aisyah, though, when she first started out. She only managed to row in a single scull after a year. But as an assurance to budding and potential rowers: “Once you get the basics and you go through that phase, everything will be easy and simple…it’s just how much you really want to learn something.”
Aisyah was also very keen to point out the benefits of rowing.
“Row a few laps about an hour and you can lose up to 1000 calories,” she said. “It’s a very taxing sport but it doesn’t injure you much,” she added.
Rowing, however, isn’t the only sport Aisyah was involved in.
“I wanted to try new sports. When I went to NUS I sort of stopped rowing for a year so I joined silat,” Aisyah said. But her silat stint didn’t last very long: “I tore my knee ligament during silat…so I became a team manager.”
Fearing that she would tear another ligament, Aisyah stopped silat altogether and returned to rowing. But that wasn’t the only reason why she gave up silat: “I don’t like fighting. I don’t like to hurt people,” she explained.
No one can blame her though. Aisyah was put on a sports ban for a good six months due to her knee ligament injury from silat and all that inactivity made the active sportswoman feel very stagnant. But this experience, coupled with her love for sports and competition fueled Aisyah’s motivation to recover, get back in shape and stay injury free.
Another source of motivation was Aisyah’s love for food.
“When you row, you can eat a certain amount of food but when you stop rowing, you’ll still eat the same amount of food. You’ll gain weight and it’ll be very hard to cut down. This also motivates me to want to row again, to eat more food!” she said.
Injuries, though, isn’t the toughest challenge that Aisyah has to go through. This particular obstacle hits a little closer to home.
“The most difficult challenge that I have faced so far is my mom,” Aisyah admits.
Aisyah’s mother prefers that her daughter “stay at home to do the household chores, cook and do whatever a normal daughter does.”
Aisyah, not a ‘normal’ daughter in the traditional sense, finds it tough to convince her mother that what she really wants is to achieve her dreams in rowing. Her recent gold medal win did make some headway in convincing her mother that rowing is what Aisyah wants but there’s still some more work to do.
“It (her win) actually motivates me to want to win even more. So I guess I have to work harder to prove her that I really want this,” Aisyah said.
Aisyah however does get a lot of support from her other family members, especially her brothers.
“They always want to try out rowing and they’d give me tips on how to lose weight and all that,” she said.
It’s all hands on deck as preparation starts for the 2015 SEA Games.
2014 has been great for Aisyah so far. Earlier this year, she won her category in the Japan Machine Rowing Championship in Kyoto. The win came as a surprise for her as she was down with a fever just a day before the competition.
What Aisyah really wants is more support from the sport’s governing bodies such as the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) and the Singapore Rowing Association (SRA) in terms of financial expenses.
But where there is lack of support from those organisations, Aisyah is pleasantly surprised at the amount of support she has received by the public, especially after her win.
“They (the public) give me money because they believe in what I do and they want me to achieve my goals. On top of the gold medal, I have these people whom I don’t even know but want to support me,” Aisyah said.
Aisyah will have a chance to defend her gold medal as rowing has been included in the 2015 SEA Games line up. This time she will have to compete in a 500m and 1000m race instead of the usual 2000m due to space constraints.
This wonderful news would have certainly delighted Aisyah who, along with all the other local athletes, are putting their heart, soul, time and money to further their sporting dreams and national glory. They will definitely have our total support come 2015 and we’re sure they’ll have the nation’s too!