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“I’m always up for a challenge!” - Gabriel Lee, Wings Athletics Club

Back in November, AR!SE announced our partnership with Wings Athletics Club as they launched their very own Wings Athletic Club Support Grant 2023. This grant would be given to club athletes who fulfil the criteria for this programme that would provide them with much-needed support as they strive to qualify for the 2023 SEA Games in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

“I’m always up for a challenge!”

For Gabriel, his first brush with Athletics began at the tender age of 10 when one of his primary school teachers selected him to represent the school at the 2013 National Inter-school Track and Field Championships. Fielded for the D Boys’ 100m race, Gabriel had zero experience with the sport and was expected to show up and race. However, the former Xinghua Primary School student took things further and eventually clinched 2nd place in the finals. Gabriel did not disappoint when he bagged home a bronze medal in the C Boys’ 100m event, again with no prior training as he was heavily involved in Wushu. However, a clash in competition schedules between Athletics and Wushu in 2015 would see him missing out on his track & field finals for the Wushu finals where he would also move on to medal in his events.

Talk about Talent.

Posing with his Team Singapore mates at his maiden ASEAN School Games. Gabriel, bottom right corner, would go on the finish top 8 in his event. Photo courtesy of Gabriel.

However, destiny would have it that Gabriel’s affinity with Athletics would lead him back into the sport. After being rejected by the Wushu team during trials, he was selected to be part of Victoria School’s Athletics team. He had performed well enough during the CCA trials and was placed under the guidance of Coach Yu Long Nyu, current National Heptathlon record holder and multiple SEA Games medalist, as a hurdler and triple jumper. After just a year of training, Gabriel represented VS at the National School Games for the very first time and walked away with a commendable 3rd-place finish. The next 2 years would see the former Victorian secure double gold in his final year along with an NSG B Division Triple Jump record of 14.29m and a spot on the ASEAN School Games Team. While ending his secondary school season on such a high made him even more motivated to prepare for the next season, little did he know that all his plans were about to fall apart.

Pandemic woes

Covid struck which caused a major upset to his plans. His hopes of breaking records and qualifying for overseas competitions were dashed as numerous competitions were cancelled and public facilities were out of bound. This resulted in his next two years of Junior College consisting of home-based workouts and attending classes virtually over Zoom.

“Back then I was improving, jumping well in trainings and even qualified for Asian Juniors. But when everything suddenly stopped, I was very sad about it. Before that, I had only went for one overseas meet (ASG) and I really wanted another overseas experience. Also, I wanted to compete as much before I enlisted for NS so I just wanted to see how far I could go during the two years. That’s why it was depressing because I never really knew what I could have accomplished if things were not interrupted.”

Crossing the line in 1st place to clinch Gold in the B Division 110m Hurdles in a new personal best time. This was Gabriel’s first time running in the Singapore Sports Hub. Photo courtesy of Gabriel.

Nonetheless, Gabriel soldiered on and refused to give up on triple jumping and found ways and means to stay motivated and hungry. While the 20-year-old admits that there were times that it was tough, it was during this season that he understood the importance of being patient and consistent. When covid measures began to ease up with track & field competitions resuming, Gabriel wasted no time in getting back into action. Despite having to enlist for National Service, which meant that he would have significantly lesser time to train, the Victoria Junior College Alumni decided to continue training and to try and qualify for the 2023 SEA Games.

“I guess I’m just really hungry to improve, to jump further and to break my PBs. I live for the thrill of breaking my personal bests and I started (Triple jumping) only at 15 years old so I know I can go very far because my technique still has room for a lot more improvement.”

A pleasant surprise

Shortly after his enlistment, Gabriel was treated to a pleasant surprise. His schedule allowed him to train only on weekends which meant having to manage his performance and training expectations. Nevertheless, his coach encouraged him to participate in the 2022 Singapore Open Track & Field Championships just to see where he was at and he did. While he had no expectations, he found himself fired up as he lined up alongside some of the more seasoned SEA Games athletes who had flown into Singapore to participate in the meet. Competing against his regional counterparts proved to be a precious opportunity for him and he was not going to let it go to waste.

“It was just me and them and they were jumping more than 15 meters. During the warm up, I kinda knew that I was going to PB because I felt good and true enough, I did a PB on my earlier attempts, I was excited but I became very fixated on the 15m mark.”

Gabriel, leaping to a new personal best in the 2022 Singapore Open Track & Field Championships.

Video courtesy of Gabriel.

Despite doing a personal best jump of 14.86m, he found himself overly focused on clearing 15 meters that his execution of subsequent jumps fell apart. In hindsight, he wished he had listened to his coach’s constant reminder to focus on the execution instead of obsessing about the distance.

A Supportive Community

“As I mentioned before, I can get too focused on hitting 15 meters that I forget everything else I have to do. Thankfully, Ms Yu always reminds me to execute my jumps well and to put together everything we practiced. Basically, I would say focus on the small steps that will result in bigger goals being met. Don’t be too eager and focused on the final goal that I forget the day to day things.”

A recent knee injury has further made his ability to do a full jump more challenging. For him to be able to jump without pain, Gabriel has had to be extra careful and diligent in approaching his jumps with the right technique as failing to do so often saw him having to hobble out of the sand pit. (Fun fact: The force exerted by triple jumpers on the ground can be up to 22 times their body weight) However, he sees the good in this as it has forced him to shift his attention to perfecting his technique and his run-up instead of always being distracted by the distance.

Having a splashing good time with his friends. Photo courtesy of Gabriel.

Aside from a shift in mindset, Gabriel credits his performances to the fervent support shown by family and friends who have always been quick to step up and help him in any way they can. Some of these efforts include his parents ferrying him from his army camp to the stadium and back home, while his friends have been very accommodating and would schedule their meet-ups around his schedule.

“My parents don’t know much about sports but they try to be involved and supportive. Even my grandma will ask me about it every time I see her which is really quite touching. They never once complained or asked me to train less which I’m very grateful for. My friends are also very quick to celebrate with me every time I PB or win and they encourage me when things get tough. Some of them were trackers before so they know how difficult it can be at times. It makes me wanna do well so that I can share the victory with them.”

Gabriel, 2nd from the left, posing with his Victoria School teammates and coach (in red) after competing at the National School Games. Photo courtesy of Gabriel.

On the track, he gives credit to his one and only coach, Ms Yu, for her guidance and understanding since day one. Having been an accomplished figure herself, winning 5 SEA Games Bronze medals in both Athletics & Basketball along with producing some of Singapore’s top athletes, Yu’s experience as a high-performance athlete and coach has been something he treasures.

“For the past 7 years of being coached by her, I’ve often heard good things about her and what she has accomplished. She coached me from scratch to where I am at today which I’m very thankful for. Her eye for detail and teachability is amazing and she’s always very invested in every athlete’s personal life. No matter how big the training group is, her feedback is personalised and precise. I know I’m in good hands.”

Lessons learned

Through the ups and downs of his career, Gabriel expresses gratitude for the help that he has received thus far which has spurred him on to aim higher. Of all the advice and lessons that he has received and learned, he holds on to one particular piece that has left a deep impression on him:

“I always imagine myself 20 years down the road… I never want to have to say “what if I did this…” because I don’t want to have any regrets and I want to be able to say that I didn’t waste my talent or take my ability to train and compete for granted just because of obstacles. So now I just make the best out of what I have because I have a target and know what I want to do. I don’t want to waste my youth and present opportunities.”


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