Thank you, Mr and Mrs Lai

Thank you, Mr and Mrs Lai
Jodie Lai posing with her Asian Games gold medal and (from far left) brother Thaddeus, father Terence and mother Jenny.

If Jenny Lai had not given the "go-ahead", Singapore would have had one less gold medal to savour at the 2014 Asian Games.

Jodie Lai was only eight when mum had to make a big decision on her daughter's future.

"Initially, I wasn't supportive of Jodie sailing. I just didn't want her to get so dark," said Jenny, a 43-year-old education officer. "And also, she was doing music like piano and violin, and also ballet."

When husband, Terence Lai, thought otherwise, she agreed to go along with him.

It helped that Terence, who is head of Biz Mio and OTT TV at SingTel, was an avid swimmer and canoeist in his school days.

After her parents decided, Jodie dropped the violin and ballet commitments and focused on sailing.

Last Tuesday, the 13-year-old posted her biggest achievement yet, when she claimed top spot in the girls' Optimist class at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.


Brother Thaddeus and primary school teacher Sarah Wee are responsible for Jodie's start in sailing.

As an eight-year-old, she used to watch her 11-year-old brother sail.

At the time a primary three student at St Hilda's, she was already itching to try it, and when her teacher Wee extolled the virtues of sailing, it was only a matter of time before Jodie got on her own boat.

"My teacher always talked to us about sailing, and when she introduced it to us, I wanted to give it a try," she told The New Paper at the Lai's family home in Kembangan.

"At first, it seemed scary to be all alone in the open sea, and I was very, very young then, but I got the hang of it after a while."

Jodie clinched the silver at the Asian Sailing Championships in South Korea in July and, a few weeks later, she won at the North American Championships.

So it should not have been a surprise that she went on to claim gold at the Asian Games, even if Jodie herself never expected it.

"I was very happy because I did not expect to win at such a major event," said the pint-sized sailor.

"After the Asian championships and the North American Championships, I reviewed all the mistakes that I made at that time.

"And then, during my training for the Asiad, I tried to work on my mistakes and hone the finer points of my game."

It worked a treat.

The secondary one student of Raffles Girls', who stands at a mere 1.48m tall and weighs in at only 33kg, beat much bigger opponents like China's Yu Huijia and Thailand's Kamonchanok Klahan to the top prize.


Meeting Team Lai, it is quickly apparent how proud the parents are of Jodie's achievements.

Always beaming and constantly smiling at their daughter, mum and dad have tried their best to ensure their daughter has all the support she needs.

"We spend our weekends by being there for her during training sessions, and when she has competitions, we buy the equipment for her," said her father.

"Sometimes when she has competitions, my wife and I will take leave to drive her to and fro, and support her when we can. Our Saturdays and Sundays revolve around her."

Like many young Singaporeans, Jodie - she cites reading crime novels as her favourite pastime because they keep her on the edge, just like how sailing does - has had to strike a balance between studies and sport.

"In primary school, I was coping a lot better. But now, with my sailing commitments, I don't have that luxury of time anymore," she said.

Training takes up her afternoons from Tuesday to Sunday, and much of the rest of the time is devoted to schoolwork.

Five years after her introduction to the sport, Jodie has grown a lot darker.

But look around the family home and one will immediately be able to see the pay-off - there is an expansive collection of medals, trophies and congratulatory letters littered through the house.

Their daughter is confident and increasingly fearless.

The Lais' decision to give Jodie the green light to become a sailor has clearly paid off.

Now to win at the 2015 SEA Games

She's conquered on two continents, and now, Jodie Lai wants to win in front of her parents, brother, friends, schoolmates, teachers and the rest of Singapore.

The newly-crowned Asian Games girls' Optimist champion is gunning for gold at the 2015 South-east Asia (SEA) Games, which Singapore will host will host from June 5 to 16.

"I'm not really thinking about the Olympics right now. I'm not aiming for the sky or anything, I'm just aiming to do well in the SEA Games next year, and replicate the same performance from the Asian Games," she told The New Paper on Saturday.


The 13-year-old will soon be back in training, which takes place at the National Sailing Centre at East Coast Park.

She trains from Tuesday to Sunday every week - 2.30pm to 7pm on weekdays, and 1pm to 7.30pm on weekends.

The sport currently takes up most of her time.

While her parents are fully behind her, mum Jenny was slightly more apprehensive when asked if sailing would be a viable full-time career for her daughter.

"We'll be right behind her, supporting her all the way, but only if she's really, really passionate about it. For her, it's all about her interest," said mum.

"Sailing is everything to her now, but in a few years, will that still be the case? We can't be too sure."

The ultimate goal is, of course, the Olympics.

The Optimist class is a junior event and does not feature at the Olympics.

Jodie will have to switch boats in 2016 when she turns 15, and she said: "I'd pretty much like to try out 420, because it's a two-person boat, and that's what makes it even more interesting.

"I think the only difference is the way you tie the ropes to the boats, but other than that, technique-wise, it's all the same. "The only slight difference is the way you steer."

Said dad Terence: "It's all up to her, really. A lot depends on her transition from Optimist class to the two-person boats once she's 15, the chemistry between her and her partner.

"That's something she'll have to figure out on her own.

"A lot of sailors, they start out with small boats on their own, and when they get older, they can't cope with the physical demands of the bigger boats, so they drop out of sailing altogether."

This article was first published on Oct 7, 2014.
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