Singapore rower Aisyah takes to crowd-funding to chase Olympic dream

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Singaporean Saiyidah Aisyah rowing in the heats of the 2014 Asian Games women’s lightweight single sculls event (Photo by Action Images/Sport Singapore)

A few weeks ago, Saiyidah Aisyah tried to pay for her groceries by card as she usually does - only for the card to be declined.

That was when it dawned on the Singapore national rower how little was left of her savings, which she has been using to fund her quest to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

The incident finally spurred her to launch a crowd-funding campaign, which she had thought about after being approached by a few supporters who wanted to help by transferring her money.

In an email interview with Yahoo Singapore, Aisyah explained that the crowd-funding would be a “transparent” process, and she went ahead with the idea by setting up a page on MakeAChamp - a crowd-funding site for competitive sports.

It was then that I realised I've been waiting for something to happen that might fund my dreams since August and nothing has happened, and that I have to start taking my own actions,” the Sydney-based athlete said.

Funding for Olympic quest

The 27-year-old, who won the nation’s first-ever individual rowing SEA Games gold in 2013, is attempting to secure qualification to the women’s single sculls event in Rio. To do that, she has to finish in the top seven at the Asia & Oceania Continental Qualification Regatta in Chungju, South Korea from 23 to 25 April. It is the region’s sole Olympic qualifying event.

Aisyah explained on the page how she has been funding her own journey to the regatta since August last year, but now needs support to continue her training because her savings are running low. Her aim is to raise AU$9,000 (about S$9,072), which will go towards expenses for nutrition, physiotherapy, gym sessions and transport leading up to her Korea trip. She approached some corporate sponsors, but was rejected.

“My competitors will be from all around Asia and Oceania, which is a lot of countries vying for those seven spots,” she said. “Only China has qualified and will not be at the qualification regatta. It is going to be hard but I will make sure I am prepared for that.”

Aisyah further elaborated in a Facebook post that she was informed last November she had been selected for the Race to Rio 2016 (R2R) programme, but has yet to receive any funding from it. According to a TODAY report in November 2015, the programme provides an enhanced budget for local athletes attempting to qualify for both the Olympics and Paralympics.

While there have been no further announcements since then, Yahoo Singapore understands that Sports Singapore will elaborate on the R2R 2016 programme in the coming weeks.

1,000m lightweigh sculls bronze medallist Saiyidah Aisyah with her supporters. Photo: Teng Kiat

Believing in dreams

Aisyah has made it clear she is not pointing fingers. On the contrary, she is heartened by the amount of support that her campaign has garnered. With 20 days left to go, AU$4,605 has been raised - slightly more than half of the target.

“It's crazy how fast news spread in social media and how many people are supporting my dreams!” she said. “It feels good to know that even when I am alone here in Sydney, there are hundreds of people back at home cheering me on. It definitely motivates me to push even harder!”

She acknowledged that her rowing career has been “pretty hectic right from the start”, but believes her training for the regatta ­– the most recent being a 10-day training camp in the Snowy Mountains – is going well.

Like they say, the most important part is to enjoy the journey,” she mused. “So even when times are hard, I think about how lucky I am to be able to do this – living the dream, representing my nation. 

“I've learnt a lot about persevering through whatever life throws at you to get to where I want to be.” 

Like tennis player Sarah Pang – another local athlete who turned to crowd-funding to support her training – Aisyah hopes that people will support her because she is chasing a dream.

I am a strong believer in the beauty of our goals and dreams and I hope that people support me because they believe that by helping me, they are giving hope to others as well,” she asserted. “And of course, people should support me because they believe in me.”

To support Aisyah in her campaign, head to