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Crossing Oceans For Their Olympic-Sized Dreams

Road to Tokyo 2020: National sailors Griselda Khng and Olivia Chen spend most of their year on the road, travelling from Australia to Europe for the best training and competitive opportunities.

“It’s been a crazy week for us, and it just got a bit more difficult! Our trailer wheel is about to give way and we’ve had to stopped by the roadside for the night to wait for assistance till morning!”

That’s… certainly not something that happens every day, I thought, after national sailor Griselda Khng apologetically replied to my gentle reminder of answering some email interview questions (so I could write this story).

But that’s the reality of life on the road. Roadside troubles are just one of the many unexpected surprises that Olympic hopefuls Griselda Khng and Olivia Chen meet on a regular basis, but they’ve taken it in their stride. The 26 year-old and 23 year-old are Singapore national sailors who harbour Olympic-sized dreams, and are quite literally crossing oceans to make their Tokyo 2020 podium goals a reality.

“We spend most of our days abroad, as the majority of the competitions are in Europe. We start our year training in Perth, where we focus on our fitness and strength. We usually stay for 3 months and then hop back to Singapore for a short break, and then it’s back to Australia again for another 2 months of training,” says Olivia, who is one half of a duo they’ve affectionately named “Go Sailing”.

“In this phase we mainly prepare for the upcoming regattas in Europe that will take place in the next 6 months. Thereafter it’s onward to Europe, where our trainings are focused on helping us peak at each regatta.”

If that isn’t exhausting enough, the Go Sailing girls aren’t just travelling alone, they’re carrying all their sailing equipment with them.

“No matter how many times you check your trailer or service your car, after driving for a few thousands of kilometres, issues when transporting ourselves and our equipment across Europe can arise,” said Griselda, who represented Singapore at the Rio Olympics in 2016 where she finished 15th overall and was placed as the top Asian in the world.

“There was once our trailer axis gave way when we were going towards Kiel, Germany for a competition. We were stranded in the intermittent rain and had to crash in the car by the roads overnight, before getting help the day after.”

Nonetheless, it’s all “worth it” to them if that means a clear shot at Olympic glory. That has always been the ultimate goal, which was also a big motivating factor that contributed to this partnership. That and some serendipitous timing.

After competing in the Rio Olympics, Griselda’s sailing partner at that time, Sara Tan, made the difficult decision to stop sailing so that she could focus on her studies. But Griselda was not done with the sport. Hence her search for a new crew began.

Olivia, who was previously a national netballer, heard about this “once in a lifetime” opportunity from a mutual friend. “It was quite simple for me, sailing could potentially be a sport that will take me to the Olympic Games. This was an opportunity I wanted to make the best out of. I wanted to do something that would make me proud and not have any regrets in the future.”

They made contact through Skype and after some talks, Olivia took a leap of faith and flew down to Perth to try out the 49erFX. They’d say the rest is history, but in this case, it was not.

Picking up the sport did not come easy. After all, sailing requires technical abilities that could take years of experience to develop. “In my first few months, I would be covered in cuts and bruises after every sailing session, and I just could not see the light at the end of the tunnel. It required so much of strength and fitness, and it was a lifestyle that I couldn’t get used to,” said Olivia.

But she stayed the course. Digging deep so that both herself and Griselda could continue believing in their dreams. “Under the guidance of Griselda, I started to see gradual improvements in my skills and technique. I started to believe in myself and desired to become a better crew. When we won our first race in my very first regatta together last year, I truly wanted to sail and become a better sailor.”

Since then, both girls have seen their fair share of ups and downs. Injury and staying the course both mentally and physically are very real concerns that they battle daily.

“An Olympic campaign isn’t a sprint, it’s a 4-year marathon. Everyday you’re faced with a challenge to be better than the previous day, and that can be very exhausting. This is when understanding your body really matters because it’s important to know when to push, and when to step back to reset and refocus. Training smart is equally important as training hard,” says Griselda.

Sometimes, unforeseen predicaments such as injuries happen, and that can potentially put you out of action for a long time. I suffered a partial tear to one of my ligaments and I was out for about 5 weeks. During that time, I focused on staying positive and on rehabilitation and other land training including visualisation and imagery.”

Being on the road also means being away from family and loved ones, and the duo admits that that’s one of the hardest parts of being away.

“Missing special occasions such as Christmas, new year, weddings, birthdays etc., or not being able to be there for your loved ones when they need you is tough. I’m extremely thankful for my family and friends who have been supporting me since the beginning of my career,” says Griselda.

“When in Perth, I usually coach on the side to afford our expenses. It’s hard work, but I want to continue creating memories and have something to look back on and go ‘wow, I’m so glad I did that, and travelled there, and ate that and met all those new friends. It’s about going out there and doing things I’ve never done in my life, experiencing new things because I dare to try. That’s what living more means to me.”

And for those of you wondering, they did eventually manage to get their trailer wheel fixed and are now en route to Aarhus, Denmark for the 2018 Sailing World Championships.

As part of our 50th anniversary and in hopes of inspiring the next-generation of Singaporeans to achieve their dreams, we have partnered with local sailing athletes Griselda Khng and Olivia Chen. Griselda and Olivia have been working hard despite facing challenges along the way, and we’re proud to support them on their journey to represent Singapore for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

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