'I've become stronger'

National badminton player Yeo Jia Min posing with The Straits Times' Star of the Month award for October. Her title wins (both singles and doubles) at the Badminton Asia Under-17 tournament won her the accolade.
National badminton player Yeo Jia Min posing with The Straits Times' Star of the Month award for October. Her title wins (both singles and doubles) at the Badminton Asia Under-17 tournament won her the accolade.ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

Jia Min says setbacks faced this year only gave her more confidence

There is something about the start of a new year that brings optimism. It lends a sense of hope and anticipation, and so it was for national badminton player Yeo Jia Min.

This year, 2015, was the year this young shuttler would make her major Games debut - at the SEA Games on home soil, no less.

Steadier in her mind and stronger in her game, this year, she was ready to make a breakthrough on the world junior stage.

It was going to be a special year.

But with just weeks to go before the SEA Games were due to kick off, Jia Min found herself in a doctor's room, receiving the bad news that she would play no part in the biennial event.

VALUABLE EXPERIENCE
 

The next time I face difficulties, it won't be a new thing to me and I'll be able to handle it better. I've gained more confidence.

YEO JIA MIN, on learning to be stronger

After a partial tear to a tendon in her right knee, doctors advised her against competing for fear that it could worsen into a full tear that would put her out of action for an even longer period.

What followed was disappointment, tears and pain - from treatment and rehabilitation, but also the heartache of watching her team-mates compete without her.

Said the 16-year-old, who had emerged through internal trials held by the Singapore Badminton Association to earn a coveted spot in the singles event: "I questioned why something like this would happen to me, after I had trained so hard for the opportunity.

"It was quite a down period for me. It was a golden chance to play, but I guess it wasn't the right time for me."

Things started to look up. She won the Badminton Asia Under-17 singles title, then partnered Crystal Wong to the doubles crown - achievements that earned her The Straits Times' Star of the Month award for October.

The right timing, she thought, would come at the World Junior Championships in Peru. Handed a favourable draw in the singles event, surely this would be her moment to shine.

Unfortunately, a day before the singles competition began, gastric flu struck.

Jia Min was confined to her hotel room for three days, was left dehydrated and 2kg weaker, and out of the competition without even playing a single point.

"I had high hopes. I felt confident of progressing to the top four, but I couldn't even compete," she said about the tournament, which took place early this month.

"I felt like I let people down, like I've disappointed those who thought I could achieve something.

"I didn't expect there to be so many difficulties this year."

The youngest of three children, she said she drew strength from her Christian faith and also found encouragement from the backing of her supportive family.

Having weathered some of the toughest setbacks of her budding career so far, she said the year has taught her to stay patient and retain faith in the long journey to the top of the badminton world.

While still eligible to play in junior tournaments for two more years, she will begin to compete in more senior-level tournaments from next year.

Said Jia Min, who has set her sights on a medal at the World Junior Championships: "(This year) has made me stronger. The next time I face difficulties, it won't be a new thing to me and I'll be able to handle it better.

"I've gained more confidence. I'm hungrier for more wins, for bigger tournaments."

The past year, while trying, has made this young shuttler richer in experience. A new year will again bring renewed promise.

Maybe, just maybe, it will be that special year she has been working and hoping for.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 22, 2015, with the headline ''I'VE BECOME STRONGER''. Print Edition | Subscribe