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S’pore swimmer opens up about crippling anxiety in journey to clinch Asian Games silver

'If you're reading this, I hope you know that trying your best is enough.'

Tanya Ong | August 27, 2018 @ 12:13 pm

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Everyone hears about the glorious victories at sports events.

What is talked about, however, is the sacrifices and anxieties that every athlete goes through just for that one competition.

Even for swimming, a sport that Singapore is known to be strong at, our athletes face immense pressure to do well.

In a Facebook post, experienced Team Singapore swimmer Roanne Ho opened up about how she came to terms with her crippling anxiety in the lead-up to the Asian Games.

S’pore’s breaststroke sprint queen

Ho, 25, has been representing Singapore in various competitions over the years. During the 2015 and 2017 SEA games, she took home gold for the 50m breaststroke event.

Yesterday was incredible. I went into heats seeded 8th before qualifying 3rd for the final and then emerging 2nd. Last night was just a whole roller coaster of emotions after tearing my suit while changing resulting in a mini panic attack. Some say getting silver is the worst but not to me. I gave everything I had and I have to dedicate last night's swim to @sergiolopezmiro who has been extremely patient with me ever since I joined the NTC. His guidance, life lessons, never ending encouragements and support helped me grow not just as a swimmer but also as a person and I finally managed to get over my irrational fear of the 100m. I can't wait to race in the 50m breaststroke tomorrow, followed by the 4x100m medley relay!! #teamsingapore #singaporeswimming #seagames2015 #oneteamsg

A post shared by Roanne Ho (@r0anne) on

This year, at the Asian Games, Ho clocked 31.23s for the 50m breaststroke on August 23, breaking her own national record by 0.06s and clinching the Asian Games silver medal.

This was a remarkable comeback for Ho as she had finished sixth during the heats earlier that morning, and also battled a severe bout of stomach flu a few days before.

On August 25, Ho wrote a post on her page explaining why this victory did not come smoothly for her.

“Struggled a lot”

Ho wrote that she “struggled a lot over the past few months”, but only a handful of people knew how bad it was.

This struggle stemmed from her feeling she wasn’t good enough without a medal or a specific time goal.

“I was so crippled by anxiety, and the fear of being a failure or a disappointment… (Without a medal) I wasn’t strong enough, I wasn’t capable enough, I simply wasn’t enough. Sport is so heavily results driven, there’s always someone who wins and someone who doesn’t and I so desperately wanted to be the winner.”

In her post, Ho makes reference to the April 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, where she narrowly qualified for the finals in her pet event but finished without a medal.

Without indicating whether or not this had bearing on her psychological state afterward, Ho wrote that it was after that period that she felt so much anxiety that she would go for days without sleep, and struggle to attend her trainings and complete her sets.

It got so bad that she would cry while trying to complete her sets at training, and sometimes, even waking up and “getting a glass of water to drink seemed too arduous”.

Coming to terms with her fears

This crippling performance anxiety was not the only setback Ho has faced in her sporting career.

Two years ago, she suffered from a life-threatening collapsed lung and an injured shoulder, resulting in her needing multiple surgeries.

Despite these obstacles, she managed to bounce back with her gold medal win during the SEA Games last year.

This time was no exception for her.

Ho wrote about how she managed to come to terms with her fears and learn to not base her self-worth on her results:

“If I felt like I wasn’t enough without a medal, I would never be enough even with a medal. There will always be a bigger competition or a faster time. If I were to base my self worth on my results, I would never be okay with who I am.”

And referring to the Asian Games, she said that she “would be okay” as long as she had given the race her best:

“All I wanted out of myself was to not leave that pool regretting not having tried harder. I decided that the result would not matter. I could emerge last but if I had done everything I had set myself out to do, if I had given it everything I had and more, I would be okay.”

Encouraging others

In her post, Ho also encouraged others who were facing similar challenges in their lives.

“So if you’re reading this, I hope you know that trying your best is enough,” she said.

After all, “nothing that’s worth anything comes with pain,” she added.

This is Ho’s full post:

Top photo from Roanne Ho’s & Grace Fu’s Facebook page.

About Tanya Ong

Tanya hopes to own a roller skate disco one day.

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