After finishing first in Final B and seventh overall in the women's single sculls event at the Asia and Oceania Continental Olympic Qualification Regatta in South Korea, Saiyidah Aisyah became the first Singaporean rower to ever qualify for the Olympics.
Team Singapore rower Saiyidah Aisyah with her bronze medal during the 2015 SEA Games. Photo: Sport Singapore
While she has made history by securing her ticket to Rio, it wasn't a smooth sailing journey. Financial obstacles had to be overcome and sacrifices had to be made; Aiysah has had to put her career on hold, forgo her social life and live in a foreign country far removed from her family and friends.
But Aisyah is not one to shy away from tough challenges, and she is certainly no stranger to them having overcome a broken nose and torn retina to win Singapore's first individual rowing gold in the 2013 SEA Games.
Currently based in Sydney, she trains with her coach Alan Bennett up to 13 times per week and will be living there till the 2018 Asian Games.
Having grown up in sunny Singapore, the different culture and lack of familiar faces can take an emotional toll on the best of us.
“Initially it feels like you are free from nagging and things like that, but it gets quite lonely at times,” she said. “I'm staying with a family now and they have been treating me like their own so it's okay, but I still really miss home.”
Despite this, Aisyah believes all her sacrifices will pay off in the long run.
It may be tough living and training overseas, but it gives her a competitive environment where she can improve herself further. She is exposed to a higher level of rowers, which in turn drives her to push her limits.
“It's important to have a good quality training environment,” the 28-year-old said. “I'm training with the girls here, some of whom are representing Australia. So my training partners are very good in their sport and they push me in every session.”
Supporters of Team Singapore rower Saiyidah Aisyah. Photo: Sport Singapore
For the upcoming Olympics, she has set herself the target of finishing in the top 20, and her efforts down under will no doubt go a long way in helping her achieve that.
Being a professional athlete is neither a smooth journey nor a cheap one. Equipment, training and living costs all add up to a considerable amount, especially if you are overseas.
After spending all her savings last year, Aisyah turned to crowdfunding to raise money for her training and competitions but even that could only last her five months.
Serendipitously, she was awarded the Sports Excellence Scholarship (spexScholarship) soon after and Aisyah couldn't be more thankful.
“Right now, the spexScholarship is covering most of my expenses so it really eases the financial burden off my shoulders.”
The spexScholarship provides enhanced support for high performance athletes, and for Singapore's first-ever Olympic rower, this is a welcome gesture which really helps to support her road to Rio.