“This moment is not about me, it’s about my coaches, my friends, my family…This swim wasn’t for me, it was for my country.” That’s what Schooling, the Olympic gold medalist, said. His father, Colin, told him to stun the world before the final, and he did just that.
He united a nation, changed our sports history, inspired hope, and with modesty, he demonstrated not just resilience and perseverance, but character. It’s definitely Schooling’s moment and he and his family deserve it.
The journey has just started for the 21-year-old with a "face like choirboy, ambition like a streetfighter.” But it was a journey his family walked with him every step of the way.
At 6 years old, in 2001, he was inspired to be like his granduncle, Lloyd Valberg, who was Singapore’s first ever Olympian in the 1948 Games as a high-jumper. At 13, in 2008, he met his idol Michael Phelps. He then competed in the nationals in ACS(I) and moved to Bolles School in Florida in 2010 to be trained under one of the best swimming coaches.
Since 2010, he had competed in the SEA Games, Commonwealth Games and Incheon Asian games, and bagged numerous gold medals. The victory trails led him to the summit of the Olympic glory yesterday when he beat three international superstars (or pantheon’s gods of the sea) to secure Singapore's first gold.
My mum, 60, said, “I have got to take care of two households on both sides of the world. It has been tough. Tough because we are not getting any younger…It is tough on family life, missing each other. Financially, using up all our reserves and having to budget like crazy. It has been tough on all of us, but he wants it.”
Altogether, the realization of the dream costs the Schooling about S$1.35 million. And every cent of it was well spent.
Now the nation celebrates. PM Lee said, “The motion will be formal recognition of his achievements by Parliament.” Schooling is scheduled to return First Class compliments of SIA and he will make his rounds in an open-top bus in like fashion as our football dream team winning the Malaysia Cup in 1994.
What’s more, Singtel, McDonalds, Brands and SPH have all published a full-page Straits Times’ tribute to our champion flying fish from the humble estates of Bedok.
Lesson? Let's face it, not all of us can be like Schooling. It’s reality check time. We can admire, emulate, and even idolize him for a season, but his Olympian journey is a physically, emotionally and spiritually tough one and he has changed history of competitive sports for this little garden-city state.
In a historic moment, Singapore flag stood alone at the top spot with three other national flags (US, South Africa and Hungary) in a three-way tie.
This was what the water god Michael Phelps announced after clinching the silver medal yesterday: “I’ve been able to do everything I’ve ever put my mind to in this sport. And 24 years in the sport. I’m happy with how things finished. I’m ready to retire. I’m happy about it. I’m in a better state of mind this time than I was four years ago. And yeah. I’m ready to spend some time with (baby son) Boomer and (fiancée) Nicole.”
The reality is that there can only be one Phelps, one Bolt and one Schooling. They are top athletes who have paid the price, completed the race, and earned their place in sports history. Their paths, backgrounds and circumstances differ from each of us.
We can envy, adore or be inspired by them, but we have to confront our own obstacles, trials and challenges. Real life for most of us is not reel life for some of us. We have our own demons to wrestle. And we must never forget that the greatest privilege in our life is to live up to who we are, what we can do and what we have set our mind to achieve. It is essentially about overcoming and prevailing over our current circumstances and be the best that we can be.
The story of Phelps, Bolt and Schooling is our story too. It is a story of determination, faith, vision, raw grit and a never-say-die spirit. These traits or values are common to all men and women. They are not exclusive only to superstar athletes, empire builders or national leaders. Heroes were once strugglers who kept the hope up, the faith within, and the passion going.
You don't need to win a gold or silver medals to possess or embody these values. No doubt it is a matter of degree, and Schooling fires up with them, but each of us confronts our own battles and choose our own fights. In other words, our life is unique to us and only we can live it, excel in it, and keep the faith about it.
Ultimately, life's gold medals (so to speak) is all a state of mind. The gold mentality is a mindset that never gives up. That is what set us apart from the animal world. That is what makes ordinary folks extraordinary. That is the mind of champions.
You therefore don't need to be recognized, famous or rich to be considered successful. They are the frills of success, not her causes or reason. If I have a definition of success, it would be about living with a sense of purpose, fulfilling it at your own pace, and being content with each progress made towards it, however small. Character always precedes enduring success.
Neither Phelps nor Schooling took giant leaps to arrive at where they are today. They took conscious, measured and oftentimes painful small steps to reach one set goal after another. In the end, we must not forget that a straight line is made up of innumerable almost unnoticeable tiny dots that band together in one direction for unity, visibility and impact. It’s the same with small daily victories in life that all adds up in the end.
Most of us live seemingly ordinary life. We may not win medals or attain the same level of fame as some people we marvel on tv. But living to the fullest is what joins us together in one common bond. And living to the fullest often takes extraordinary effort and strength.
For a mother who raises her children with love unconditional, a husband who loves his wife to the end, a friend who stands by another in good and bad times, and a father who sacrifices all for his children, they are all “life's medalists” in their own rights. They all deserve credit and recognition for leaving a legacy their loved ones can be proud of. Schooling's parents, coaches and friends are exemplary examples.
I guess the only consolation prizes in life are reserved for those who wallow in self-pity, indefinitely. They make excuses for their shortcomings, failures, and mistakes. Blaming others instead of looking inward for lasting change. The winners however pick themselves up from wherever they have fallen, kick the dust off their feet, and move forward with renewed hope and passion. They don’t hide behind excuses. They are not embittered, or embroiled. They are not waiting to be consoled. They are just looking to complete the race. To live life to the fullest. We can all do just that. Cheerz.