In an obscure corner of a Clementi bungalow lies unique evidence of one family’s sporting passion.
In a neat row on a metal hanger hang the white fencing suits of Victoria, 26, Timothy, 21, Elizabeth, 20, Christian, 18, Katherine, 15, and Matthew, 13. Their masks and shoes are lined in front, their bags with weapons arranged at the side.
A dehumidifier whirls softly in the background, blowing out hot air to ensure the suits, which cannot be washed daily, are dried and aired – and ready for the next duel.
Every suit is labelled but occasionally, confusion breaks out. Like the time Matthew accidentally took Victoria’s jacket and Elizabeth’s shoes to the Singapore Sports School.
Wardrobe malfunctions, however, are just one of the adventures of Singapore’s first family of fencing.
The fencing Lims are the children of Mark and Monica, founders of the Rosebrook Developmental Centre for both typical and special-needs children. The sport did not escape the couple’s youngest child, eight-year-old Marie, who has Down syndrome.
One family consumed by a single sport is not unknown to Singapore. The talented Quahs dribbled down football fields, from Kim Beng in the 1950s to Kim Song in the early 1980s. The gifted Tans, from Singapore National Olympic Council vice-president Tan Eng Liang to nephew Matthew Tan, ruled the water polo pool.
In Sunset Walk, fencing is part of the Lims’ discussions and DNA – although each is also unique.
Victoria and Elizabeth are eyeing SEA Games gold in the team event and dreaming of the Olympics.
Timothy, who was once in the national team, stopped fencing competitively in 2012 and is waiting to enter university.
Christopher, eighth at the Asian Youth Games in 2013, is also concentrating on academics. Matthew won two golds and a silver at the National Schools Fencing Championships two weeks ago and was sixth at the Challenge Wratislavia – the world’s biggest youth championship – in Poland last month. Next year, the national team is his goal.
It was Timothy who was first bitten by the fencing bug 11 years ago when he was 10. He started training with Elizabeth. Next was Victoria. Before long, the rest followed.
Said Timothy cheekily: “At that time, I had never met another fencer and it struck me as something I would enjoy. There is not much more needed to entice a 10-year-old than parent-approved duelling.”
Ambition is addictive and to see a family member having fun is to want to join in. Matthew saw his older siblings at work and started at six. Katherine, the last to start at 11, is already focused on selection to the national team.
There is pride among them, but not rivalry. As mum Monica said: “They are very supportive of one another and are not afraid of giving constructive feedback, especially during competitions.”
Fencing is their glue. As Monica, who stressed that she and husband Mark did not put any pressure on the kids, continued: “Fencing has bonded them in many ways, especially since they face common challenges. It is also great that they get to travel together and in different combinations.”
Fencing, elegant yet technical, has brought its own challenges to the Lims, whether it is balancing on the piste, or fencing mat; or just balancing sport and homework. Christopher, for instance, is sitting the International Baccalaureate this year and must find time for swords and study.
For Mark and Monica, the challenge is logistics and squeezing all nine into the seven-seater family car when they go out together.
Money must be balanced too. “The costs are not low,” said Monica. So they strategise to get the children to share equipment and choose carefully which overseas competitions to send them for.
All train at the same centre, Absolute Fencing, and have their skills honed by coaches Wu Jie, 34, and Wang Wen Jing, 35.
Said Victoria: “Wu Jie was the one who inspired me from the first time I picked up fencing; recognising and honing my potential... He can effectively coach in all three weapons (foil, epee and sabre), which is why he is able to coach all my siblings.”
Now the Lims’ attention will turn to the SEA Games, cheering for the wider family that is Singapore but also for Victoria and Elizabeth. Every one will be in attendance, including Marie.
Marie wears her siblings’ old suits but maybe one day, on that metal frame, she will proudly have one of her own.
This article was first published on April 26, 2015.
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