What drives Joseph Schooling? It’s a simple, yet complex question.
After all, at age 21, he had gone further than any Singaporean has on sport’s greatest stage – the Olympics.
He beat Michael Phelps – arguably the most dominant athlete of all time – in an Olympic record time which echoed long after Majulah Singapura rung across Rio’s Olympic Aquatics Stadium in 2016.
He could have hung up his trunks to chase the typical spoils of a young adult, in the knowledge that his legacy and standing as a Singapore trailblazer was set.
Yet, two years later, the Republic’s first Olympic champion pushes himself harder than ever, silently sacrificing more while perhaps savouring less.
So when TwentyThirty meets him for an exclusive interview at his home in Marine Parade, we ask another simple question: “Why?”
Why wake up at 5am every day to batter yourself in the pool? Why miss family gatherings to clock an extra hour in the gym?
Why skip parties with friends and miss out on the full college experience? (True story: the University of Texas undergraduate could not attend Austin’s iconic SXSW Music Festival in March as he was preparing for the NCAA championships)
Without hesitating, Joseph replies: “Because I want to be a Singapore legend. I don’t consider myself one, but I want to be.”
He bashes rivals in the water, but is bashful off it. Kendrick Lamar will be proud… the kid is humble.
Back in Singapore to train ahead of the Asian Games in Jakarta in August, the youngster feels he is “nowhere near” his peak yet.
Similarly, he aims to inspire others to live life to the fullest: “The thought of getting better and constantly progressing forward – we should challenge ourselves to see just how good each of us can be.”
You may feel it’s hard to identify with an Olympic gold medallist who spends more time in the gym in a week than some people do in a year. But whether you seek a six-pack or a life hack, the guiding principles remain the same.
Joseph notes: “Chase your passion. If you go to work for the sake of going to work, you’re going to have a terrible attitude.
“Find something you genuinely enjoy doing – it doesn’t have to be the highest-paying job but it should be something you love, just like swimming is for me.”
Fame, unfortunately, can bring its fair share of flame. To this day, the 23-time Southeast Asian Games gold medallist faces critics and naysayers who question his ability and even desire.
When he was dominated by American sensation Caeleb Dressel at the recent NCAA championships, questions were raised on social media over his perceived attitude and the distractions of his newfound celebrity status.
On how he deals with brickbats, Joseph chimes: “Focus on what you need to do and believe in the process. It automatically drowns out the outside noise.
“I use criticism as motivation. I love when people doubt me, I love proving people wrong.”
And with that, he heads off for yet another training session. Away from the spotlight, just how he likes it.
Eat, swim, sleep, repeat.