Showing off her svelte figure as she took centre stage while being crowned Mrs Singapore Globe 2016, Madam Lina Li was one of the big winners at the finals of the Mrs Singapore and Classic Mrs Singapore 2016 pageant, held on Saturday night at Orchid Country Club.
The other two main titles went to Madam Giselle Ang (Mrs Singapore Planet 2016) and Mrs Lynette Tan (Mrs Singapore Universe 2016).
Looking at the confidence, poise and radiance she exuded as she smiled for the dozens of flashing cameras, you would never imagine that the journey from past to present for the 33-year-old, who also won the subsidiary Leadership Award, was far from picture perfect.
Instead, it was one that was full of adjustments and personal transformation.
At 16, the Chinese national left her home in Tianjin when she was offered a scholarship to pursue her secondary school education in Singapore.
She began at the Secondary 3 level at Dunman High School when she was 17.
Madam Li, who is a mother of two, told The New Paper in fluent English: "You will never know the pain and torture I went through (to learn the English language).
"At the very beginning, I couldn't even understand a single word my teachers were saying except 'Good morning' or 'Thank you'.
"I really didn't understand any lesson and I had to self-study because I was on a scholarship and I was, in a sense, forced to produce results... (if not I) would be sent home."
She added: "I would read the textbook word for word and check the dictionary when I came across any words I didn't understand, then I would translate it into Chinese and try to make sense of it.
"I remember I didn't understand the subject of Geography at all, from the concepts to the questions being asked in the exams. I would memorise the textbook from the first page to the last."
Madam Li ended up scoring A1s for every subject in her O levels, except for English, which was a C5, a grade she was still very happy about.
She continued to excel academically as she moved on to Raffles Junior College and the National University of Singapore, where she met her Chinese husband, whom she married in 2009.
After that, she started teaching physics at an Independent secondary school and gave birth to her first son in 2011.
She became pregnant again just nine months later and welcomed another son in 2012, after which she was posted to a different school.
That was when her troubles started.
Madam Li said: "I went from teaching at an Independent school to a neighbourhood school and there was such a big change in the environment, the culture and the student profiles.
"On top of that, my husband was travelling to China a few times a month for work, then there was added stress from my parents-in-law who came (from China) to help me look after my newborn."
Madam Li believed she had postnatal depression then, as she was overwhelmed by the new roles and responsibilities she had to take on.
Said the self-proclaimed perfectionist: "I cried very often, feeling like escaping from my house. I found myself very useless at that point of time and I couldn't seem to do anything right. I was struggling with my career, motherhood and I simply had no time for myself."
During this period, she put on 9kg due to stress-eating, going up to 64kg from her usual 55kg.
"I knew there was something wrong with me and I couldn't ignore it anymore. I had to find time for myself to figure it all out so I had a discussion with my husband about putting my career aside to focus on our kids.
"I took a year of unpaid leave last year and resigned in January this year," said Madam Li, who is now a freelance make-up artist.
She went on to tackle her weight issue.
Madam Li, who is 1.65m tall, jogged up to 5km in her neighbourhood, walked up to three hours at parks, danced and got toned with videos on YouTube. In three months, she lost 12kg, and, at 52kg, is now even slimmer than before.
She came across the Mrs Singapore pageant, and because she had regained her confidence and had free time, she decided to try something new.
Madam Li, who, like her husband, is now a Singapore citizen, said: "I'm someone who likes to constantly challenge myself. At the beginning of the competition, my scores were not leading, but I think I managed to prove myself.
"I believe through this platform, I'll get to reach more people who can benefit from my story and inspire them. I like to share my experiences and lead people, which is probably why I won the Leadership Award too."
This article was first published on May 9, 2016.
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