Juggling act

Juggling act
Singapore pole vaulter Rachel Yang with her son.

The boy is only two years old, but Zacchaeus Yeo has already experienced what it is like to bask in the glory of standing on top of a podium.

Like a seasoned pro, he stood tall with a heavy gold medal around his neck.

Behind him was his mother Rachel Yang, who won the Malaysia Open women's pole vault event in March with a new national record of 3.83 metres.

Despite his tender age, Zacchaeus is always by Yang's side, as he travels to overseas competitions with his mum and can be regularly spotted at Hwa Chong Institution where the pole vaulter trains.

"Actually, he was there even before he was born," said the 33-year-old Yang.

"I was three months' pregnant before I found out I was carrying him and, up until that moment, I was still pole vaulting. Six months after I gave birth, I was back in training.

"I needed to get back to shape and pole vault helps me achieve that.

"Two months later, I won the national age group championship, so I thought I could still continue with the sport.

"My husband is national pole vault coach David Yeo and we spend a lot of time training.

BABY ON BOARD

"So when Zacchaeus was 16 days old, we already took him to Hwa Chong.

"For his first eight months, he was always there. Bringing Zacchaeus to training is the best way for us to spend time together.

"We were afraid that he would be exposed to the weather conditions, so we prepared shelter and sunscreen for him. When he started crawling, we got him a playpen.

"Now that he has started to walk, he can be a distraction, so we bring him to training sessions less.

"But he joins me for overseas competitions because by bringing him along, I have one less worry and I can focus more on competing."

Yang is a late bloomer in pole vaulting. She picked up the sport only after dating Yeo when she was 23.

Besides juggling training and motherhood, she is also pursuing a Masters in business administration.

This is why she adopts a now-or-never attitude while taking on multiple roles as a mother, wife, student, employee and athlete.

"I'm 33 now, so I don't have another five or 10 years to go for greater heights. My time is now," said Yang, a marketing and partnerships manager with the Singapore Sports Hub.

"It is a bit crazy to be juggling studies, work, motherhood and sports. I never really thought much about it. I'm the kind of person who sets goals and then goes all out to achieve them.

"Motherhood changed my perspective of life. Now, I need to be a role model for my son. I need to mature and do my best in everything for him.

BLESSING

"Of course, I can't do all these without the support of my family, my bosses and colleagues, and my classmates in my Masters course. I'm really blessed."

Yang's national record of 3.83m may be far off 2013 SEA Games gold medallist Sukanya Chomchuendee's mark of 4.21m, but it is better than Riezel Buenaventura's bronze-winning height of 3.80m in Myanmar.

This year, on home soil and in front of her family, Yang is driven by the desire to win her first SEA Games medal in three attempts.

She said: "This is a sport with too many variables and it is really unpredictable, but of course my target is to win a medal.

"My family and son will be there and it will be wonderful if he can join me on the podium again."

Answering the nation’s call

She is a veteran of three South-east Asia (SEA) Games, winning bronze in 1999, and played in the national women's hockey team from 1999 to 2007.

After getting married and giving birth to daughter Yingxuan and son Yingrui, who are seven and four years old respectively, Luo Yingying retired from the national team and thought that was it.

"My children are young and I have to work," she told The New Paper. "I could still play at club level, but I simply don't have time to commit to national team training and overseas stints."

But, with the SEA Games held in Singapore this year, Luo decided to pick up her hockey stick again to answer the call for her country.

Still actively playing for Crescent Hockey Club in the National Women's League 1, the 32-year-old defender showed she still has what it takes to compete at a high level, when her Team U33, comprising former national under-16 teammates, won last year's Singapore National Games gold in the premier women's category.

"It is always an honour to be playing for the national team, and to be playing in a major tournament at home is a rare opportunity," said Luo.

HUBBY SUPPORT

Luo credits her husband Maverick Puah for the smooth transition back into the national team.

She said: "He is a very hands-on father, so there has not been any major disruptions or changes to our daily routine with the kids.

"He was the one who gave me the most encouragement when I wanted to return to the national team.

"I'm also fortunate to have strong family support as my mother and mother-in-law help out with the kids."

Luo's love for the sport is clearly evident as she prepares to become a full-time hockey coach after moving on from her previous job as a PE teacher.

However, preparing for a major tournament requires sacrifices such as spending less time with her family.

Luo had to convince her children, who were initially reluctant to "lose" their mother to the sport.

She added: "Some of us have to work in the day before training at night.

"When I train on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I see my kids for only 15 minutes because by the time I get home, it could be past their bed time already.

"Initially, my kids didn't want me to return to the national team because that means I have lesser time with them.

"But I explained to them that everyone should have a passion. For example, my daughter does ballet and likes to draw, so I told her that mummy also has a dream, and I think they understand and are supportive now."

Her inspiration comes from national women's hockey great Melanie Martens, who scored the winning goal over Malaysia in the 1993 SEA Games final. Martens was also a national teammate at the 1999 SEA Games.

"She kept playing for the national team until she was almost 40 and then continued to play for clubs," said Luo.

"Another ex-international Louise Ong, whom I played with at Singapore Recreation Club, is a mother of three.

"Others like pole vaulter Rachel Yang are all role models because they are proof that one can be a successful mother-athlete."


This article was first published on May 10, 2015.
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