Youngest SEA Games athlete ever returns to perform as violinist

Youngest SEA Games athlete ever returns to perform as violinist
PERFORMER: Former SEA Games gymnast Eileen Chai (inset) will perform at the SEA Games, this time as a violinist.

From athlete to musician, she has come full circle.

At age seven, Ms Eileen Chai was the youngest athlete in history, when she competed at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games in 1985 as a gymnast.

She went on to take part in events such as hurdles and springboard diving, in five other SEA Games up to 1995.

On Sunday, 30 years after her debut, she will perform at the SEA Games again, this time, as a violinist.

The 37-year-old she will appear at the SEA Games Gymnastics (Rhythmic) competition with a new self-composed song at Bishan Sports Hall.

Ms Chai, who will be singing and live looping on the violin in a 10-minute song titled Giving, told The New Paper that the song is meant as a tribute to all athletes. Live looping refers to recording layers of sound and rhythm in front of a live audience, to create a band-like performance.

The idea for the song came from asking herself what comes next after the life of a sportsperson.

"At the end of the day, some will win and some will not. But we can still try to share our experiences to motivate and inspire the next generation of athletes," she said.

Ms Chai said she has survived many ups and downs in her personal and public life, including many injuries during training.

"Being the youngest athlete was really fun. Everyone doted on me and they'd throw me up in the air and give me souvenirs. I felt very special," she said.

At the age of 13 in 1991, she won a bronze medal for gymnastics at the SEA Games in Manila. She moved on to pursue track and field, for which she had broken national records. Later, she did springboard diving.

While pursuing a degree in microbiology at the National University of Singapore, she earned her Grade Eight violin certification.

Ms Chai first married when she was 23 and divorced three years later. She is now married to a 51-year-old flavourist in a multinational corporation.

Last year, Ms Chai, who is now a private violin teacher, released a self-help book and a music EP, both titled Teach a Life, for Life.

Ms Chai said that the song she will perform on Sunday is also a reflection of her own journey as an athlete.

"From 1985 to 1995, I only had one bronze medal. Like me, many athletes have spent so much time training every day. The song is about celebrating all athletes, not just the podium-finishers.

"It's important not to neglect those who did not win, as they went through the athletic journey too," she said.

This article was first published on June 10, 2015.
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