By Aiko Yeo (23A01B), Shannen Lim (24A01A), and Venkatesan Ranjana (23A01D)
As the owner of a gold medal in the 2022 SEA Games’ 4×100 medley relay, Bonnie is beyond a doubt one of RI’s prominent student-athletes. Despite this, her humility shines through (along with her graciousness—evidenced by her laughter in response to our pun of “diving right into it”) as she shares with us about her swimming career thus far.
“I was not expecting by any measure to get into the SEA Games. It was such a surprise, and a shock—it was really a blessing. […] My mum was like, ‘Huh, what? Did you check your email properly?’”
With other national swimmers studying overseas and thus ineligible to compete, Bonnie was one of the faster backstroke-swimmers in the country, allowing her to qualify for Team Singapore. Furthermore, by virtue of being the only available backstroke swimmer for the medley relay, she managed to qualify for the match itself.
Image credit: Mediacorp
Because her achievement can be credited to these factors that aligned in order for her to participate, she maintains that she isn’t entirely comfortable with being defined by her SEA Games achievement.
“Sometimes I feel like for me, there was a lot of ‘favour’ and a lot of ‘undeserved merit’ involved? Because, I’m not the fastest swimmer in Singapore, definitely not. And also, the fact that I got the gold medal was because my teammates were so fast […] Everyone thinks swimming is an individual sport, right? But it’s precisely the event that was a team [event] [in which] I gained the most.”
(From left to right) Bonnie and her teammates, Letitia Sim, Quah Jing Wen and Quah Ting Wen
“Actually, if you look at my timings for my individual events, I always [placed at the] last few positions at the finals.” She does concede, however, that she delivered her best personal performance in this relay, and agrees that this was a good way of viewing her achievement.
Bonnie also explains how surreal the whole experience was from start to end. “It was super overwhelming,” she says, gesturing emphatically, “Because it was nothing like I’d ever experienced before. It’s less the venue, less the environment; it’s more, just the feeling of like, “Oh my gosh, I’m in the SEA Games,” right?”
Indeed, simply being on the international stage came with a great deal of pressure, as Bonnie went on to explain – to know that everyone back home was watching her was a new kind of stressor entirely.
And she doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. Bonnie’s career in swimming thus far has been long and extensive. Though she describes herself as a “sort-of a late bloomer” for only “peaking” at 17 (whereas the maximum age to qualify for the national team is 16), her competitive swimming career started when she was 8 years old.
In her time at RI, on top of her academic commitments, Bonnie had to deal with a demanding swim schedule: a whopping 8 training sessions per week. As a competitive swimmer gearing up for both regional swimming championships and the A-Levels, many may hazard that the enormity of her responsibilities was sapping at the best of times, and insurmountable at the worst.
Bonnie, however, saw things differently. In the pool, she immersed herself in the sport and turned her complete focus to swimming – an opportunity to momentarily destress from academics. Training inadvertently became an outlet to “offload with friends”, who joined Bonnie in the age-old passion of JC students: “grumb[ling] about how hard exams are”.
Far from being a burden, swimming gave Bonnie valuable breathing space in her academic pursuits. She further credits the regimen of intense swim training for the discipline to flourish in her studies. The rigorous momentum of her daily training routine in the first half of JC2 translated into an unwavering drive in her academic life.
Swimming allowed me to study better; study helped me to swim better.Bonnie Yeo
In the lead-up to both the SEA Games and the A-Levels, Bonnie credits her teachers as an unfailing source of support in her school life. When her morning swim obligations conflicted with her class’ timetabled Protected Interaction Time, her Civics Tutor Mr Leong Jun Jie ensured she was kept updated on missed sharings. Even as SEA Games training ebbed into her revision time for the Common Tests, her subject teachers were “super understanding” and offered her words of encouragement to press on: “No worries! There’s always prelims, and after prelims, there are the A-Levels.”
Bonnie’s RI school journey may have ended, but her swim journey has not. With the National Qualifiers for the 2023 SEA Games rapidly approaching, most of her time is currently devoted to swimming, recovery and physiotherapy. But that’s not all. Diving into her recent endeavours, Bonnie details her invigorating post-A-Levels life: time with friends, a work attachment with the MFA and a newfound passion for in-line skating.
“I don’t want to stop swimming right now.” Still, an underlying tinge of sorrow betrays Bonnie’s assertive tone. As she moves a step closer towards an enduring aspiration – further studies in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) in London universities – she reckons with a regrettable prospect: potentially having to give up competitive swimming.
Bonnie’s final decision—“sad but willing to part with swimming”—should push come to shove, is definitely begrudging. Though her professional future in swimming remains uncertain, her passion in the sport is everlasting. So is the insight that she has taken away from her RI journey: do what you truly enjoy, even in the crucial A-Level year.
For Qirui, life in RI was all about balancing both ends of his sword.
On one end, Qirui is a fencer. He first started fencing only as a second choice (with his first choice being Table Tennis) because his Fencing coach said “he had some potential in it”. However, the past six years has turned it into something that brings him both fulfilment and joy.
Every match feels like physical chess – you have to calculate what your opponent is trying to do and think of the best counter to it.Wang Qirui
His rigorous training schedule required Qirui to be more disciplined than most. “I had very little free time so I would have to make the most of every pocket of time available just to catch up.” However, he likens studying to fencing- “knowing his own “rhythm” for academics helps me to keep up with schoolwork even with my busy schedule.”
Qirui’s fencing journey was also not without external adversity. The departure of his Russian coach in 2021 led to him being placed under the care of the national coach, where he received little guidance on how to fix his weaknesses. “My performance in fencing stagnated as a result,” he admitted. In addition, Covid led to Qirui missing overseas competitions, such as the Asian and World Fencing competitions in 2022. He still looks back on these competitions with a sense of unfulfilment, as they were “wasted opportunities” that prevented him from gaining experience.
Despite this, fencing has taught Qirui that moments of victory often follow moments of failure. “Sometimes, circumstances in life may not be optimal, but what is important is that one learns to accept that and move on,” he says. “Not every moment is a high moment.”
Even so, in his journey, there were many causes for celebration as well. After an 11 year drought, the A division boys were able to win gold in Qirui’s final year in RI “That year we were lucky and worked hard, and it was really nice to win a double gold with (the) girls team,” he says with a big smile.
On the other end of the sword, Qirui’s time in the Ecological Literacy Program was an oasis of calm in his busy school life. He inherited Project Rewild from the senior batch above and was able to explore his passion for animals through opportunities such as volunteering to conduct population censuses on wild animals and creating a children’s book.
“I never considered myself an artist before this project, I only doodled for fun,” he said with a laugh. Yet somehow, he found himself being the sole illustrator for Project Rewild’s children’s book project. “I prioritised completing the book over my studies because I knew I could catch up on that in the future.” Indeed, this sacrifice eventually paid off, as the book came out illustrated beautifully and revealed a new, creative side of himself.
To Qirui, JC life has taught him that life is all about priorities and balancing both ends of the sword. “Time flies, everything is going to be over soon. You have limited time and can’t do everything simultaneously, so you have to know what you can sacrifice temporarily without neglecting it entirely.”
For now, what’s Qirui’s main priority? “Learning how to drive before NS,” he says with a laugh. University-wise, he hopes to pursue medicine or ecology, a newfound passion ignited by his time in Ecolit. Post-NS, he plans to get back into competitive fencing to achieve some of his personal goals, such as making the national team to represent Singapore in overseas competitions.
Whatever it is, he will be sure to prioritise what matters most and treasure life for all its moments—the highs and the lows.