Hong Kong International School swimmers talk about Olympic aspirations, losing sleep, and staring at the bottom of a pool

Natasha Ho

We speak to two HKIS students who made a splash at the Go24 Fitness Stingrays Invitational Meet 2019 last week

Natasha Ho |

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Gabrielle Wei Jia-yun won both the Girls 15 & Over High Point Winner and Top Female Performer.

Staring at the same, straight, black line at the bottom of a pool for two hours straight, eight times a week might sound boring and meaningless to you. Two swimmers from Hong Kong International School know they aren’t doing this in vain, though. To them, reaching the end of the line means glory, joy, and self-improvement.

The Go24 Fitness Stingrays Invitational Meet 2019 took place from May 10 to May 12 at Hong Kong International School. This year, the competition attracted an unprecedented amount of more than 450 swimmers.

There were eight local teams, and eight international teams from places like the mainland, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. On the second day of the event, Young Post spoke to two swimmers from the Hong Kong Island Stingrays swim club about their swimming journeys.

Gabrielle was crowned top female performer.
Photo: Liza Wei

Many eyes were on Gabrielle Wei Jia-yun throughout the meet. The 16-year-old, who mostly raced in the Girls 10 & Over category, came first in several events including the 200 metre Individual Medley, 200 metre Breaststroke, and 100 metre Breaststroke. She also clinched the champion title in the Girls 14 & Over 200 metre Medley Relay.

Gabrielle finished the meet in style, winning both the Girls 15 & Over High Point Winner and Top Female Performer. “I know I’ve worked hard to achieve first place,” said Gabrielle. “But I also know that some of the competitors are younger and I have to acknowledge that as well.”

Gabrielle began competing at the Go24 meet eight years ago. She said that this competition is special to her as it has been a place of growth. “[Competing here has become] a tradition for me,” she said.

“I remember when I was young I’d look up to all the older people, and now I’m one of the older ones.”

Gabrielle recalled that, when she first started swimming, she didn’t like it at all. But slowly, as she kept at it, the sport began to grow on her.

She added that she now finds being in the water very therapeutic. “Swimming is a way to get my mind off of things. I really enjoy having teammates and swimming with them as well,” she explained.

The HKIS student admitted that it isn’t all fun and games, though. She often has to wake up very early, and constantly has to juggle training and schoolwork. Still, she added, the rush she feels when she wins a race makes it all worth it.

When the next season begins, Gabrielle will be heading off to a number of different competitions, such as the USA Swimming Junior National Championships in late July.

In five years’ time, Gabrielle sees herself at university – and potentially taking her sport up another rung on the competitive ladder. “Qualifying for the Olympics would be cool.”

Juan Lucas says the nerves never go away completely.
Photo: Liza Wei

Another HKIS swimmer, Juan Lucas Umali, broke his personal best in the Boys 10 and Over 200 metre Freestyle at 02:01.29, 0.3 seconds faster than his previous record.

When we asked about his goals, he said, for now, he is aiming to break a few more club records. He also added that in five year’s time, when he starts university, swimming will continue to be a huge part of his life.

Like Gabrielle, Juan has sacrificed a lot to get to where he is now.

“I’ve sacrificed sleep, watching YouTube, hanging out with my friends,” the 15-year-old said, but added that he appreciates how resilient the sport has made him. Before each meet, he said he thinks about all the training he’s gone through.

“I don’t think the nerves ever completely go away,” he said. “But the best way to deal with them is to think that there’s nothing I can do right now – except show what I’ve done for the past few weeks.

“I’ve been training eight times a week for several weeks, and it feels so good to finally see results,” he said of his personal bests at the meet. “That’s the real joy that comes fromswimming.”

Edited by Nicole Moraleda

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