So Olivia, how would you describe yourself?

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life. – Muhammad Ali”

I truly believe in that saying. If I don’t step out of my comfort zone and be uncomfortable, then I’ll never achieve my dream of going to the Olympics. Right now, I’m doing whatever it takes, even if it means learning a new sport from scratch.

When I told my friends that I’m going to aim for the Olympics, they think that I’m crazy and out of my mind, but some of them told me to go for it, and gave encouragement for me to achieve my dream. They know that I’m the type who will just give it her all and see things through till the end of it.


When did you start sailing?

I started Sailing just a year ago when my skipper, Griselda Khng was looking for a new crew after the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. It was then that I had the opportunity to chase my Olympic dreams. I started to learn how to sail on the 49erFX and it definitely wasn’t enjoyable. I got bruises, aches and pains throughout my body but believe it or not, I still enjoyed the speed and the intensity of the boat. It was like nothing I’ve ever done before and I just knew that I have to continue sailing the boat.


What were your early regattas like?

Well, my first regatta was actually not that long ago. It was the European Championship In Kiel, Germany. It was my first time being in Germany and I remember it to be cold, grey and rainy. For a newcomer the weather was at the back of my head as I was nervously going through the Notice of Race and the Sailing Instructions(important documents for sailors before a regatta), and making sure that I know where our course area is and which fleet we’re racing in. However, as the regatta started, I was surprisingly calm and just focused on the things that I should be doing. Although I did make a number of mistakes, but overall, I was really proud of myself for completing the first regatta in my life.


Describe your overseas training experience.

We’ve trained in Perth,Lake Garda, Kiel, Porto, Barcelona, Palma. Training in these locations provided us with windy conditions that we will not get in Singapore. Which helped with my learning curve because I got to experience these racing conditions early into my sailing career. My most memorable would be sailing in Lake Garda. It was such an amazing place to be at, with mountainous views covering the sides of the lake, it made tough days of training bearable.


How do you cope with school and competitive training?

Back when I was a student-athlete, I was competing in international Netball competitions and representing Singapore.

I remember myself struggling to keep up with school due to late night trainings and morning lectures. It got really tough when I had to travel overseas for a major competition during examination period. I remember missing all the exam papers in my first 2 years of polytechnic and had to take the supplementary papers. I went to Brunei, Wales and Scotland for international competitions. I had trainings/matches in the day and had to cramp my studies at night because I have a week of examinations as soon as I touch down in Singapore.

It was tough to keep up with school work but I was extremely lucky to have understanding group mates that was there to update me on the projects and helped me through those tough times. They were the reason why I could catch up to my assignments when I return from my overseas trip. Without their help, I would have definitely lacked behind in class.

My parents was supportive in many ways but one thing that I greatly appreciate is their understanding to my busy schedule, they knew it was tough to keep up so they did not put additional pressure for me to do extremely well in those examinations.


Has competitive training affected your grades?

It would have been perfect if I was able to get extremely good grades, but it was tough for me. I knew I wouldn’t have been able to strive in both my studies and sports, especially with the heavy loads of assignments and projects. I had to go for my lectures in the day and train in the evening which leaves me only the night to complete all my assignments and tutorials.

I remember having most of my project meetings with my group mates at night and we would stop doing it at around 4/5am so that we would be able to get some rest before heading to school. That was how 90% of my project was done but we still managed to get good results because we always ensured that the quality of our work is at its best before we submitted them.

What do you do on weekends?

Weekends had its own list of priorities. I will first make a list of things that I need to complete before Monday hits and go from there. It usually starts with project, assignments, tutorial, going through my notes then friends was for Saturdays and my family for Sundays.

Of course if I didn’t complete my work then no social life for Saturday and I will have to continue my work on Sunday. I didn’t really feel left out because most of my friends were also doing the same, but we will make time for each other to catch up over food.

What has been the most challenging part about getting to the Asian Games?

The most challenging part is the training that is required for it. As I have to start from zero, there was so much that I have to catch up. Sometimes I catch myself feeling down and low in energy simply because I was extremely tired from a full week of training. It felt like I couldn’t go on anymore but I get up again the next day, get to the gym and sail because I have a dream to fulfil.

The hardest part for us will be funding. We started as a fresh team and did not get any support from the Federation, had to gather funds on our own through crowdfunding and begging our friends and family so that we will have enough to last us through the year. With monetary stress and a mountain of skills and knowledge to learn, my first year of sailing has been the toughest and most stressful in my entire life.

How does Sailing challenge you?

Sailing deals with not just the technical skills but it also requires tactical skills.

Getting the technique right takes a lot of time and effort, because it not only requires training but it also requires one to think and connect the knowledge we know in theory to the skill we execute.

Once you get your techniques right, you will then have to start learning about tactics, this is the tricky part because it is different in every situation. Tactics can change in an instant, according to the wind, the waves and the position of the other boats in the course.

It gets tough when you combine all of these with the changing wind strengths and big waves that you will have to face in the oceans, that when it gets tough.

Sailing challenges me not only physically but also mentally.


How is Sailing a mental game?

Sailing is very much about the mental game. Whoever that is able to adapt quickly to the changing conditions will lead the race. When you’re sailing, you’re not just sailing with the boats beside you, but also the boat all the way at the other side of the course. You need to be constantly thinking about how you can out smart the rest, whether you can position your boat to your advantage. I remember once when we were in the middle of the fleet and my skipper saw a wind shift and kept going towards that direction when 90% of the fleet was still on the other side of the course. This move resulted in us finishing 2nd in the race. Sometimes when you’re confident, you just have to trust and follow your instincts.


How has determination helped your Sailing?

Having determination definitely helped me through a lot of times when I have struggled in Sailing. There were moments when I could not get the movements that I have to do on the boat right.

Especially when I first started, gybing(changing directions down wind, with the wind blowing from our backs) was the toughest manoeuvre. It required me to get into the boat steadily and switching the spinnaker(big sail at the front that’s up when going downwind) to the other side.

Initially, I was getting the steps wrong as well as the timing of the switch wrong. It was frustrating, but I told myself if others can do it, so can you and kept working on it until one day, the pieces started to fit. I was able to get my steps right and change the sail correctly. There were loads of other situations but all it takes was to keep going and do not give up.


How has Sailing help build resilience?

Knowing the fact that I have so much to catch up on helped me to push myself hard every single day. After I started sailing, I knew that it was physically demanding and I need to improve my fitness and strength. Those can be improved if time and effort have been put into it, so I kept going to the gym for 6/7 days in a week even when a part of my body was tired.

Sailing in the 49erFX has definitely taught me to be resilient not just on the water but also off the water.

What does sportsmanship mean to you?

An athlete should always have sportsmanship. Playing by the rules, and respecting your opponents. I was taught this Long ago when I was playing Netball that you can get away with playing dirty and using tricks but your opponents will never respect you as a player. A true sportsman means that when you compete and win, win it truly, fairy and with dignity.

Describe a time when you were tempted to quit but did not.

This happen not too long ago when I was struggling to sail in the big waves with the wind blowing at 22-25 knots. We were training in Barcelona and it was my first time sailing in the big waves. The waves was already a challenge for me because it required much more balance and core stability. Adding on to the waves was the strong wind and I remember capsizing in every 2-3 manoeuvres because I would mess up one part of it and that was all it took for the boat to capsize. I remember asking myself can I even do this? Will I even make it if I can’t even do a simple manoeuvre? At the end of the day, it was a day of learning that I can take away. My journey does not end on that day, just because I could not do that manoeuvre, I still have days and weeks ahead of me to work on it. That’s how I motivate myself even when I desperately feel like quitting. I remind myself constantly that quitting is not an option.


What does it mean to be a champion?

People often relate champions to their results, their achievements and their victory but winning isn’t everything. Winning a championship, a trophy, medal does not make a champion. It is what that person has went through that made them a champion.

There was a saying that I read somewhere that if you fall 7 times, get up, if you fall 8 times, get back up again, and you keep going till you succeed, till you reach your goal. It is about knowing our limits and pushing past them. Having the willpower to push through struggles for the ultimate goal, not focusing on the current moment.

It is about discovering the thing that was meant for you to be a champion in understanding that you can do what you do better than anyone else because you’re willing to take the extra step that others might not. That is what I believe a champion is made of. Not the amount of medals they have, not ranking, not champion’s parades; those are bonuses of being a champion.

A champion starts from what you have within and what you will do to make sure that you’ll succeed.


What legacy would you like to leave in this world?

I want people to regret trying and not regret not trying. There are too many people around me that kept saying ‘I should have’, ‘I could have’, ‘I wish’, ‘I hope’, ‘maybe if I…’, ‘if only I….’ and the list goes on but they will not be saying that if they actually put themselves out of their comfort zone to achieve what they wanted.

There was an interview with a terminally ill people in a hospital and when they were asked what did they regret in their life, their answers was the things that they did not do and not the things they did. I’d love to see people becoming motivated with their life and push themselves over their limits, living their life to its fullest!


Read more about Olivia

Sailing: Rookie pairing aims for Tokyo – Straits Times, 30 Nov 2016
Singapore Sailor Olivia Chen gets support from Chiam SeeTong Sports Foundation – The Online Citizen, 4 Oct 2017
Netballer turns sailor to realise Olympic Dream – Today Online, 5 May 2018
Big ambitions, small finances: Athletes who turn to funding from strangers and family – Channel News Asia, 11 Jun 2017
Sailing: Griselda Khng and Olivia Chen get six-figure sponsorship boost from DBS – Straits Times, 25 Apr 2018