by Alex Wan
A year after she bagged the Sports Achiever Award for her sporting prowess, Au Yeong Wai Yhann further added another feather to her cap when she was named the Moo Soon Chong Outstanding Student-Athlete for the year. An award aptly named in honour of the Singapore Sports School’s founding principal, it is awarded to the student of the highest order who has shown outstanding achievements in sports, studies and exemplary character.
Unlike the Sports Achiever Award, where 20 people were recognised, the Moo Soon Chong Outstanding Student-Athlete Award is far more prestigious, with only one male and one female from secondary and post-secondary respectively being chosen. For this year, Wai Yhann was awarded alongside fellow post-secondary student Nujaid Hasif Zainal Abidin (Silat), and secondary students Simon Lee Renjie (Fencing) and Hailey Loh Suanne (Golf).
Now into her third and final year of her International Baccalaureate programme, Wai Yhann was very happy and yet surprised with her award:
“I was actually quite surprised with the award. I think particularly for myself, I usually set quite high expectations, so I’m never really quite satisfied with how well I perform. Plus, I’m in a school with many other outstanding student-athletes. So, I’m really surprised but very happy, because it shows there are people out there who actually recognise my efforts.”
By effort, this goes beyond the hours of training she puts in. Wai Yhann shared that one of her coaches, (former national coach) Sandra Wu once said that there are 3Ss in the life of a squash player – Squash, Studies, Social Life, and that it is impossible to achieve all three. She made a conscious decision to sacrifice her social life. While her family and friends were busy celebrating Chinese New Year one of the years, she was away at a tournament. Wai Yhann added that these situations become easier with time and she’s also grateful that she has friends and family who are understanding to her needs as an athlete.
Wai Yhann, who is known for her dedication and discipline in training amongst her peers, was accurately reflected in the award citation :
“She is religiously dedicated to her training programme, which proves just how much she wants to improve her game despite already being the top women’s squash player in Singapore. A mature athlete, Wai Yhann looks beyond the mere wins, but drawing key learning points from every match, win or loss. She also has a great work ethic and remains extremely committed even preparation of her IB exams. From September to November last year, she never once missed her training runs and conditioning programme leading up to SEA Games despite the academic stress.”
Serena Wong, the Singapore Sports School’s General Manager, Individual Programme, who is one of Wai Yhann’s mentors, was full of praise for her, saying,
“Knowing Wai Yhann personally, she gives 100% effort in all her tasks. She also wastes no time – stretching, rolling and releasing her muscles while listening in class, especially when she knows her body requires it.”
With the award, Wai Yhann joins the ranks of many decorated student-athletes that include last year’s winner Crystal Wong, a member of the Singapore badminton mixed-team that finish fourth in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, sprint queen Shanti Pereira and shooting’s Martina Veloso, a world junior champion in 2014.
As with any athlete, it’s never a one-person effort, and Wai Yhann credits her family as her biggest supporters since the very first day. While many parents would cringe at the thought of their child pursuing a sporting career, Au Yeong Pak Lam and Loh Lai Choon had always been supportive of Wai Yhann’s decision. When asked what she thought is the difference between her parents and the others in supporting her sporting journey, she said:
“Both my parents are Physical Education teachers and they both play sports. In fact, my mom was a national hockey player and my dad was very into rugby. They do believe in opportunities one can gain from sports and I guess, they always want me to achieve the best that I can and take anything (from sports) that will help me grow into a better person.”
Dad Au Yeong Pak Lam, who is an active squash coach himself, added:
“It was indeed a very pleasant surprise for us as Wai Yhann is a pioneer for squash at the Singapore Sports School. We are very proud of her perseverance and her courage to brave through many challenges in her journey thus far. As her parents, we actually feel very encouraged by her too.”
One other person who has been playing a pivotal role in her squash is coach Timothy Arnold, whom Wai Yhann says, is more than just a coach, but a mentor and a friend. The pair have been working together for over six years now.
“I’ve had many different coaches and they’ve all definitely played a part to who I am today. But with Tim, we somehow have a special connection. We seem to have our philosophies kind of aligned somehow. He’s always someone I can look up to and there is always something to learn from him“, Wai Yhann added on what sets Timothy apart from the many coaches she has worked with all through the years.
Wai Yhann’s award is certainly also a big win for squash. Being the first and only squash athlete in the Singapore Sports School until recently, when younger sister Au Yeong Wai Iynn joined her, the sport is still very new there. With her winning the award, it has certainly earned squash some attention and recognition.
“It definitely does draw awareness to the sport and with an all-rounded individual like Wai Yhann – she is an obvious role model to staff and students alike. Her sister Wai Iynn just joined us this year, so we do hope to support other talented squash players like how we’re continuing our support for them,” added Serena when asked if she thinks Wai Yhann’s award will help squash grow in the school.
While the award is a nice icing on the cake for all of Wai Yhann’s hard work and perseverance, 2019 has been anything but a bed of roses. At the time of the interview, she had just returned from a rehabilitation session to strengthen her knee, which the doctors have diagnosed as a degeneration, which she first sustained at the SEA Games. The injury has been keeping Wai Yhann out of the courts for the last couple of weeks but she has been undergoing steady recovery with the help of the Singapore Sports Institute rehabilitation clinic and her coach Timothy.