“I can tell you from personal experience that it’s not easy. But I can also tell you that it can be quite rewarding.”
I thought it’s a good time for me to share something really important with all of you.
I started off my rowing career and Olympic campaign with my own savings- we all know this story. But I think it is time people move on from the past. Yes, the start was always the hardest part of the journey- putting my job aside, spending months considering if it would be worth it to train full-time knowing that I might not be getting any financial benefits out of my goal- in fact, I know that I will never be getting any money from chasing my dream. Qualifying for the Olympics and representing the nation at the Games do not bring us, athletes, any financial benefits (unless of course if you win a medal).
That is why in sports, we never do it for money. Unless you’re a professional football player or playing for prize money in a prestigious golf tour. Otherwise, you won’t be rich being an athlete. We do it for pride, we do it to see how much of an athlete we have become and to test ourselves against the world’s best. We do it for passion and just out of pure love for the sport.
So we also know the story of how I have put myself out there and pleaded for money via my crowdfund. To be honest with you, and I’ve said this before, I don’t even remember the last time I asked for pocket money from my parents, what more asking for money from strangers. But I was desperate because I couldn’t even pay for groceries and rent. I was lucky to be living with the most generous and kindest soul in the world to give me a shelter over my head and who paid for my groceries while I scramble to find ways to support myself. It was utterly humiliating to be 28 with a negative balance in my bank account.
But you can’t blame the govt for not supporting me in the first place. They’re right- why should I be given money if I couldn’t even win a medal in the SEA Games? Why should they support me if I’m so far from qualifying for the Olympics? Belief- you say. If they believed in me even before I proved to them what I’m capable of, what about the thousands of other athletes out there who hasn’t achieved anything but had all these big dreams? Should they be financially supported too? And if the pie is shared amongst all of us, doesn’t it boil down to the same problem of having lack of support?
The good thing that came out of the phase in my life where people didn’t believe in me and no one supported my dreams was that I was eager to prove others wrong. (Thankfully, I’m very good at that.)
The crowdfunding was an immense success (Alhamdullilah) and I managed to crawl my way out of the hell hole of being desolated with the help of each and every contribution I received. A few weeks after the crowdfund campaign ended, Sports SG introduced the Race 2 Rio programme which was supposed to help athletes who are trying to qualify for Rio ease their financial burden. After I qualified for Rio, I found out that I was awarded the SpexScholarship which was the 3rd year applying for it. (Emphasis on my 2 years of getting rejected and trying again to remind you that the funding didn’t come easily.)
There are stories in the media which occasionally pop up to remind you of how I got to where I am today, how I overcame the lack of support, and how the govt isn’t doing their job to support the local athletes and things along those lines. But hey guys, look, I’ve already gotten out of that hole. I’ve managed to secure a good deal with my sponsors, the SpexScholarship has immensely reduced the financial burden and I can finally focus fully on my trainings and competitions. The support I’ve received so far has been amazing- I would never imagine receiving these not only from Sports SG but Singaporeans themselves.
Of course similar to how Joseph Schooling’s prize money will never be able to cover the costs his parents have spent on sending him overseas to study and train, the amount that I am receiving now will never be able to cover the costs that I’ve spent throughout my 12 years in rowing. But it’s not about breaking even. It’s not even about profiting. Like I said before, being an athlete would mean that I will never be rich. I believe that what is most important about all these money issues is about who genuinely believes in you and is willing to invest in you. To have fellow Singaporeans write to me after the Games congratulating me and thanking me for representing the country and doing them proud- guys, really, that is something money cannot buy. I am truly honoured.
So basically what I’m trying to say is that, the story of Aisyah being the self-funded athlete, that was me last year. And this year (and the many years to come, if God permits), I hope you will support me as the athlete who overcame all odds to achieve her dreams, the girl who didn’t listen to her mum who wanted her to quit rowing because it had “no future” and went on to making history and now made her mum one proud mother, the Olympian who is truly honoured to be representing a nation full of generous, beautiful individuals who have the power to make the world a better place, but just need a little push to make things happen. I hope Singaporeans support me because they believe in me and not because they pity my past.
To everyone who have contributed to my journey in one way or another- thank you from the bottom of my heart. And to those who are still sour about my success story (haters gonna hate, they say), thank you to you guys, too.