Life goes beyond the digits on the scale and your body is capable of so much more! Yahoo’s #Fitspo of the Week series is dedicated to inspirational men and women in Singapore leading healthy and active lifestyles. Have someone to recommend? Hit Cheryl up on Instagram or Facebook!
Name: Quah Jing Wen (@jingwenquah)
Occupation: National swimmer
Diet: No special diet, I just eat what makes my body feel good in the water.
Training: On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, I have morning and afternoon swim sessions. On Friday and Saturday, I swim in the morning. Additionally, I have a gym session after my morning swim training on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I also do spin sessions on Wednesday and Friday.
Q: How were you introduced to swimming?
A: Both my siblings were already swimming by the time I could crawl, so naturally I spent a lot of time by the pool. My dad thought it’d be a good idea one day to just sort of throw me into the shallow side of the pool (this is how he tells it) and apparently, I was a natural (who knows, I can't even remember this). And I guess the rest is history.
Did you try any other sports or it was just straight to swimming?
I mean it was just too easy and convenient for me to be thrown into swimming since I already had my sister and brother in the sport. So no, I never really got to try other sports competitively, though I’m sure my parents would have let me if I wanted to.
How old were you when you first started competing?
There is this meet called the "Midget Meet". Going by the name, you can already guess that I was pretty young. I don’t remember the very first race at all though, but I do remember my first strokes of butterfly. It was so embarrassing. It was when I joined my first swim club (Ace Swim Club) and did not know the basics of swimming at all - like, I hadn’t even gone through the survival swimming classes. I was told to swim butterfly and I basically flopped and didn’t move a metre.
Is swimming pretty much the only thing you've done all your life?
Yes, swimming is pretty much my life. I’ve fallen in love with the competitive aspect of it. Being able to push my body in training to limits that not many people can say they’ve reached, surpass goals and times that I’ve set for myself and being able to represent my country on a global level, racing against the best in the world.
It’s these little moments of highs and shots of adrenaline that make the sacrifices all worth it. I also love the friendships and connections I’ve made through the sport. I have met my best friends through swimming.
What are some of the highlights of your journey so far?
Being the most bemedalled athlete and VIP of the 2022 SEA Games in Hanoi. I also think being the “first and only” woman in Singapore under 2min 10sec for the 200m butterfly event is pretty cool.
Do you feel any pressure?
Yes, but I think most of the pressure comes from myself. The external pressure from coaches, peers and supporters dull in comparison to what I sometimes burden myself with. Although I will say, being the younger sister of two amazing national athletes has bred a very competitive spirit in me.
Growing up, I told myself that I’d do whatever it takes to make a name for myself. And I do believe that the best athletes suffer from the worst internal pressure and that it’s only necessary. If you’re not constantly striving to be the best and beat the best, how good can you really get?
What are the challenges you face as a national athlete?
I think that more emphasis and importance could be placed on competitive sports, especially in the school system. While I understand that school and studies are a priority, growing up I found it hard to establish a student-athlete balance on my own initially. Although I will say that schools are slightly better at aiding young athletes in this balance.
For right now, Singapore is establishing a comprehensive approach to training athletes and I am so grateful to brands like Under Armour that provides me with the support I need to train my best and continue representing Singapore to the best of my ability.
What are your goals, in life and in sports?
Sports goals are easy. I can drop a bunch of numbers that won’t really make sense to the masses so I’ll just say this; I want to make the Olympic A cut for Paris 2024, I want to swim and race at the biggest sporting event there is and I want to make my country proud.
For life, that is a little hard to think about now because currently, swimming is my life. But I do daydream sometimes about opening my own gym one day and inspiring people to get fit. I want to reach out to the girls who are afraid to start working out because they “don’t want to get too big” or those who are intimidated by the gym because they feel like they don’t belong or lack the knowledge.
Other than swimming, do you take part in other types of sports?
I love the gym. I think you can tell from my TikTok and Instagram. I really enjoy the aspect of being able to build your body as well as challenge yourself with pushing more and more weight.
When did you feel the least confident about yourself?
I think I lose the most confidence in myself when I don’t perform in a race. I start to look at all the things wrong and most of the time, I tend to look at myself. Not the way I trained, because I pride myself in being a strict, hard worker. But I start nit-picking on the smallest things like how I look. How I look then affects how I feel. I can be as fit as ever and training well, but if my body does not reflect that, I begin to second guess myself and that’s when my mental state starts going downhill.
So I’ve found a balance, where the work I put into training starts showing on the outside. When I start to feel more confident in how I look, I realise that the grit and work I’ve been putting my blood, sweat and tears into are paying off, the mental confidence follows.
Are you satisfied with your body now?
I am content with how I look, though I don’t like to think of it that way. I like how my body supports me through the gruelling training that I put it through. How I look is just a product of the work that I do.
I have received comments on my body. The most popular one being that I look like a man or when I flex with my brother, a good one is “two brothers”. And you would think I’d be fine with that, as I do love looking "jacked" and "shredded" with muscles. But I am still human and I am still just a woman. I still love feeling feminine.
I think the message I want to promote to girls struggling with this same problem of "being too masculine" is that you can be beautiful and feminine, but strong too.
What do each of your tattoos mean?
I’ll just mention my favourites – my first tattoo and the one on my calf. My first tattoo is the dragon on the side of my thigh. Being born in the year of a dragon, I’d like to say I resonate with the traits of my zodiac; fiery and tenacious.
The one on my calf is a Qilin or Kirin, another Chinese mythical creature. For my 22nd birthday, I asked my family to design a tattoo for me and this is what they came up with. The detail and workmanship on that tattoo is my absolute favourite.