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Tue, Feb 11, 2014
The Straits Times
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Chasing her Olympic dream
by Eve Yap

National rower Saiyidah Aisyah Mohamed Rafa'ee is so determined to represent Singapore at the 2016 Olympics that she has shelved her wedding plans.

"I want to chase my Olympic dream," says Saiyidah, 25. Besides, she feels her boyfriend, 21-year-old national serviceman and fellow rower Nadzrie Hyckell, is too young.

Her tenacity in the sport had the nation cheering when she won the women's 2,000m lightweight single sculls race at the South-East Asian Games in Myanmar in December, clinching Singapore's first rowing gold since 1997.

Her mum, Madam Sumiati Buang, reads her tenacity differently. "She's a stubborn girl," says Madam Sumiati, 56, a childcare teacher who has four sons aged 24 to 36.

"I thought since she'd won a gold, she'd take a month's holiday and rest from training." Instead, Saiyidah resumed practice just four days after her win.

Her mother acknowledges that the medal was "worth all of Aisyah's sacrifices".

Talent-spotted at 14 while she was studying at Bukit Panjang Government High School, Saiyidah received no financial support from the Singapore Rowing Association after the Singapore Sports Council cut funding for the sport earlier last year.

She also took no-pay leave from her day job as a student development officer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic for a six-week training stint in Sydney ahead of the SEA Games.

Four to five nights a week, when she is in training, she sleeps over at the rowing association at Jalan Buroh in Jurong. Otherwise, she shares a five-room HDB flat in Woodlands with her mother and stepfather, boat master Adam Ramli, 56.

Madam Sumiati divorced Saiyidah's father when the girl was about four years old.

Madam Sumiati, what was it you did not like about your daughter's passion for rowing?

Madam Sumiati: My mother stopped me from being too adventurous, so I felt I should do the same with her. Once in my teen years, my mother took me to the doctor to get a medical chit so I would be excused from attending a National Cadet Corps camp.

But I realised Aisyah is different from me. She loves sports and the outdoors.

Saiyidah: When I was at Anglo-Chinese Junior College, I was training every day for my first SEA Games in 2005. Mother wasn't happy.

Madam Sumiati: I was worried about her studies. And she was hardly at home to help me with housework.

Saiyidah: She wanted me to clean the house or do the laundry, but I was tired after training. Besides, I have four brothers she could ask.

What was Saiyidah like as a child?

Madam Sumiati: She was a quiet girl till she was in lower primary school in Woodlands Primary School. People thought she was anti-social.

Saiyidah: I was afraid of talking to people and getting scolded by teachers. Once in kindergarten, I didn't want to ask my teacher to let me go to the loo. I peed in class.

Madam Sumiati: She also didn't want to go to school because of separation anxiety. Now she wants to be separated from me. How close are you to your siblings?

Saiyidah: I keep in touch with all my brothers every day. We have a family WhatsApp chat group.

Madam Sumiati: So they can gossip about me.

Saiyidah: But I'm closest to Syahir. He's 24, the youngest among the siblings. I remember bullying him when we were young.

Syahir: She would laugh at me if I fell off a chair, for example.

Madam Sumiati: All this while I thought Aisyah was the most decent child of all.

How is your relationship with your stepdad, whom your mother married four years ago?

Saiyidah: No one can replace my dad who dotes on me. He tries to remain close to us by organising gettogethers sometimes and I know he misses us, but I'm sure he has his responsibilities as a dad to my two half-sisters as well so he has to prioritise. I'm cordial to uncle, but we're not close.

Mr Adam: It's okay for them to call me "uncle". We accept each other.

Syahir: It's good that my mother has the company of someone other than her kids.

Madam Sumiati: For some issues, the children prefer to talk to him than to me as I tend to panic.

Saiyidah: I tend to quarrel with her over rowing issues - she stresses me out. Uncle is very calm.

Madam Sumiati, did you cane your children?

Madam Sumiati: I began teaching a year before Saiyidah was born. I was influenced by my early childhood education training against physical punishment, which was why the youngest two, Saiyidah and Syahir, were never caned. But now I feel like caning them - they're so stubborn.

If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you do differently?

Saiyidah: If I were mum, I would send my daughter to rowing classes every morning and give her all the support because every child deserves to be her best if she has the potential.

Madam Sumiati: If I were Aisyah, I would listen to my mum's advice about my rowing.

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