Determined to finish

Determined to finish
Samantha Yom with father Michael Yom, mother Lena Yam and brother Russell. Mr Yom stopped work for three years to support her sailing.

The perseverance that helped 15-year-old Samantha Yom secure a come-from-behind win for a historic first gold medal in sailing at the recent Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing was first displayed when she was six.

When Samantha, now a Raffles Girls' School student, was six, she wanted a piano to practise on.

Her father, IT manager Michael Yom, 47, said it was a big financial investment, so if she wanted it, she would get no birthday presents for the next 10 years.

It was her daughter's "first test" and "surprisingly, she said yes", says her mother, Ms Lena Yam, 45, a financing director at an IT company.

Samantha, who has a nine-year-old brother, Russell, went on to complete piano lessons up to Grade 8 and ballet to the intermediate level after Grade 8. She took up the cello in January after her final piano examinations last year.

In sailing, which she took up at age seven with many of her classmates on a four-day introductory sailing course offered at school, she went all the way to win a Youth Olympic gold medal in the women's Byte CII event, along with Bernie Chin, who also won the gold in the men's category of the same race.

"My first thought when I won was, oh my goodness, this is the first time I've won something in my life, something that really matters," says Samantha, whose primary school was Tao Nan School.

Explaining her ability to persevere, she says: "I like to undertake things to complete them. I don't want to regret, for example, taking piano up to only Grade 5."

Ms Yam says this "stark" quality of her daughter has always stood out. "I think her perseverance comes from her dad," she adds. The Yom family live in the east, near the National Sailing Centre, where Samantha trains with a Laser Radial which the family bought for about $10,000, the boat used at the Olympics for women.

What sacrifices did the family make to support Samantha's sailing?

Mr Yom: I stopped work for three years when she was in Primary 3 to travel with her. There was a lot of ferrying to and from school to the National Sailing Centre, as well as overseas training. There were also Yamaha piano lessons three times a week. I was a full-time chauffeur.

Samantha: I feel grateful that they made such a sacrifice for me. It was also fun, there was a lot of talking in the car.

What is your parenting style?

Ms Yam: I want to expose her to as many experiences as possible. She was a very mature child. I knew that she would be able to decide what she wanted.

How do you discipline your children?

Ms Yam: With Samantha, it was a piece of cake; she didn't need a lot of disciplining. We don't have to remind her to do her homework. Do you believe in caning your children?

Ms Yam: When the need arises, for Russell, yes. He loves to play and is a joyful child. For Samantha, there wasn't a need to. I rule by three principles: honesty, respect and love for God. If they violate them, they will be punished.

If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you do differently?

Samantha: If I were my mum, I would shout less and my tolerance interval would be longer, I would breathe before I shout. If I were my dad, I would keep to our crazy bet where he said he would make a career switch to sports management if I won.

Mr Yom: If I were her, I would do exactly what she has done.

Ms Yam: If I were her, I would spend more time with her brother, who adores her. I wish that she would play more. She's very disciplined. If asked to skip training to go for a party, she would skip the party.

This article was first published on Sep 7, 2014.
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