Power of mind propels champs

SINGAPORE - American author Napoleon Hill once said: "Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve."

That describes perfectly St Margaret's Secondary School (SMSS) fencing team's fairy-tale run in the Schools National Fencing Championships this week.

They upset favourites Raffles Girls' School (RGS) and the Singapore Sports School (SSP) to top the B Division - their first Schools National fencing title.

Pasir Ris Crest and Chung Cheng High (Yishun) were joint-second. Defending champions RGS were fourth and SSP fifth.

Nobody gave the SMSS fencers a chance. Not even the champions themselves believed they could bag the championship trophy.

After all, they had finished fourth the previous two years and their B Division squad comprised just 11 fencers, a fraction of what Pasir Ris Crest and Chung Cheng fielded.

According to St Margaret's coach Dennis Leong, the two schools have about 20 girls in their B Division teams.

Moreover, unlike other star-studded schools, St Margaret's do not have any fencers from the national team or the Direct School Admission scheme.

Their fortunes turned around when Leong, 32, took over the reins four months ago.

Said the former national fencer: "The team had a really defeatist attitude when I took over in January.

"They were resigned to being beaten even before they competed.

"The main thing I did was to overhaul their mindset. I engaged them in character-building activities that boosted their self-esteem."

Last month, for instance, he organised a training camp where the girls were made to engage in a full day of fencing under competition conditions.

Said team member Caryl Lei, 16: "Doing it really helped to toughen us mentally.

"For example, it taught us not to give up when we're down on points and try to overcome the problem step by step."

Her team-mate Pow Shu Shan concurs. Said the 15-year-old: "Something the coach said that really helped me was, 'Train as though you're competing and compete as though you're training'.

"That really helped me to regulate my emotions and perform to my fullest potential."

The self-confessed perfectionist had always struggled with her volatile emotions during competitions.

But, on Wednesday, she conquered her nerves to win her first individual medal in four years of competing - a bronze in the women's foil.

The only other individual medallist in the team was Anastasia Karpova, 16. She won the gold in the women's epee.

With the team's success has come a new-found confidence.

Said Caryl: "The win has not only given us a more positive outlook but also inspired our juniors to dream big.

"We're hopeful that this success will build on itself."

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

Become a fan on Facebook