From left: Yvette Kong, Rebecca Sze and Claudia Lau
Three months after the Rio Olympics, the Editorial Sub- committee was very fortunate to have the opportunity to meet up with our DGS alumnae Olympics swimmers – Rebecca Sze (2004, 2012, 2016 – Butterfly, Freestyle), Claudia Lau (2016 – Backstroke) and Yvette Kong (2016 – Breaststroke). They shared in the following interview their days at DGS; as well as their challenges on the road to the Olympics, and gave valuable advice for our younger sisters who will enter the field of sports.
R: Rebecca Sze (Class of 2006) C: Claudia Lau (Class of 2009) Y: Yvette Kong (Class of 2010)
When did you first start training and how did you balance between school work and swimming training when you were in DGS?
R: I started when I was ten and at the time I was training five days a week. The best thing about DGS is that it has always been supportive of girls with different talents. Students are given opportunities to develop their strengths outside of the classroom. Studies are always important but the School does not only focus on academic results.
Y: I remember when I had to miss lessons due to swimming training. I was grateful to my friends who were always willing to share their notes with me.
C: The teachers were very supportive and when I missed a whole week of class, some of them would give me extra lessons during lunch time to go through the material with me.
How about the teachers? Do you remember any particular one of them?
Y: One of my most memorable teachers was Ms. B. Liu who was my class teacher and English Literature teacher. She really cared about my personal growth.
C: I have fond memories of Ms. Ma (later Mrs. D. Lam). She taught me Geography and was very encouraging. It is great to be able to build up a relationship with a teacher and be able to keep in touch; to have someone support you at different stages of your life.
R: Mr. Jack Ng, my computer teacher, who was also my class teacher for two years. He was caring and would constantly ask me about my training. I was just going through my computer notes the other day and I tagged him on Facebook, and he instantly approached me and asked if there was anything he could help. I also go back to see Mrs. Stella Lau these days. She has been very supportive throughout my swimming career at DGS.
Any fond memories of DGS?
C: My most memorable event is definitely the Secondary Interschool Swimming Competition. I still remember the fervent, fiery cheering from everyone on the stand - the swimmers, the spectators and all the supporters. Even today, I still keep the notes of encouragement written by the swimming captains and passed to members of the swimming team. Old girls and ex-swimmers also attend the event and cheer for the School too. I can really feel the DGS spirit.
R: I like the morning assembly – the old assembly hall with the large, round lights hanging from the ceiling. It felt wonderful when the school gathered together, especially in the school hall during the winter months - the feeling of the whole school gathering together was so warm and cozy. I also miss the tuck shop where we ordered our sandwiches in the morning.
Y: My memories of DGS have always been the old campus. It was where we grew up back in the old school days.
What were some of the most important things you learned at DGS?
C: Definitely perseverance. I learned not to give up against challenges. I saw perseverance in students generation after generation. My peers definitely influenced me and pushed me.
R: For me it was being involved in teams and clubs – a part of our School tradition. Participation in school teams gave us the opportunity to learn about leadership. Being in charge of a stall at the mini bazaar also provided us with the experience of dealing with suppliers and business people in the real world. These are invaluable skills.
Y: Involvement with extra-curricular activities taught us how to interact with peers and with people younger than us.
What were some of the challenges being a full-time athlete? And the path to the Olympics?
R: I started being a full-time athlete after I completed Form 7. Although I now train thirty hours a week, I have more time to rest in between trainings and I can become more focused. I have represented Hong Kong since I was 12, and was 16 years old when I had my first Olympics in 2004 at Athens. I then made a second try at the 2008 Olympics, but unfortunately did not make it. My momentum started to drop when I realised other swimmers could be overtaking me. My coach at the time supported me by giving me a very clear goal to focus on – the 2009 East Asian Games. I continued working towards that goal and eventually won the first gold medal for Hong Kong. With constant training and determination, I was able to reach a breakthrough with my timing and qualify for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. I am happy to say that I am a veteran on the Hong Kong Swimming Team now, being the oldest!
C: After graduation from DGS, my swimming training continued at the University of Michigan where I also trained for the Olympics. I have now decided to come back to Hong Kong to become a full-time athlete, and this is a conscious decision I made after finishing Business School. I was at a cross-road after college graduation, struggling between whether I should go into the business world or continue with swimming and aim for the Olympics, a goal that I aspire to. After much deliberation, I made my choice and I knew this was a decision that I would look back on years later with no regret. Once I have decided, I was 100% committed going forward.
Y: I was a scholarship athlete at University of Berkeley when I hit a low period of self-doubt about my future in swimming because my results were not going anywhere. I could not find any good reasons to continue swimming. In the end, I retired, but only for three months; and with much guidance and encouragement from my coach, I came to realise I still had the passion for the sport. I was only trying to hide from it as a form of escapism. I realised that it went from hurting to swim to hurting not to swim, and I was really not solving any problems by quitting. In 2013, I chose to go back to swimming and started to aim for the Olympics. It was more important to have tried my best in the pursuit of my goal. I realised that success for me is not measured by results, but rather by efforts. When the focus is on efforts, I can channel positive energy into controllable factors which is a much better way of living. I get to enjoy the process more with growth, friendship and memories.
What did you have to give up and was it worth it?
C: When I was studying at Michigan, my friends would go skiing in the winter and I had always wanted to try. However skiing was considered as a high-risk sport and I decided to refrain from it. Although I had to give up a lot of time for swimming, it was worth it in the end because not everyone has a chance to become a full-time athlete.
Y: I have definitely gained more from swimming compared with what I had to give up. I was able to develop personal growth, expand my horizons and become a stronger person with persistence. I also learned to become more independent.
R: I don’t see swimming as a choice which made me give up other things in life. I choose to take this path and therefore do not look at other paths or options as things given up. Swimming gave me much more in return than what has been missed out in daily life. Only sports can provide you with these invaluable experiences that can carry through for the rest of your life.
What is your advice to our young athletes?
C: I think this generation of athletes are very lucky. I see transportation being arranged for students going to Sports Institute for training after school and it shows how supportive the School is. Keep persisting even if there are other things to deal with and work hard towards your goal. If you are considering sports as a full-time career, be true to yourself and ask yourself what are the reasons that drive you to pursue this goal. Once you have made up your mind, you need to commit 100% and not look back.
R: The important thing is to enjoy the process. Do not take things for granted and always learn to cherish what you have. Family support is also very important if you are to pursue sports as a career.
Y: In any profession or field, there will be many mundane tasks to do. You have to know how to find pleasure in these mundane moments. The important thing is to have fun and enjoy it – and remember to have passion, positive living and perseverance.