Sailing: Denise Lim riding the waves en route to Brazil

After missing out on previous regattas, national sailor Denise Lim will be making her major Games bow at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August. Her first time competing at the Summer Games will be all the more memorable as she will be doing so with h
After missing out on previous regattas, national sailor Denise Lim will be making her major Games bow at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August. Her first time competing at the Summer Games will be all the more memorable as she will be doing so with her boyfriend, former world champion Justin Liu. PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Despite missing the cut for several Games, S'pore sailor persevered to qualify for Rio

Denise Lim has spent the 15 years of her sailing career so far on the lower steps of the podium, looking up at her more illustrious team-mates.

Despite being one of Singapore's top elite sailors, her name has often been lost in a generation that has produced several world youth champions.

And in a sport where each country usually gets just one berth for every class contested at a major Games, it also means she has often fallen behind her peers in internal selection trials.

"Life's like that - there's always someone better or stronger," the 25-year-old told The Straits Times. "I was always second. You never go anywhere when you are second."

Not anymore.

HANGING IN THERE

Some days I tell myself to just keep going, but sometimes I'm like, it's not working.

DENISE LIM, Nacra 17 sailor, recalling the numerous setbacks she experienced during her sailing career.


HARD TIMES HAPPENED FOR A REASON

Everything happens for a reason, and it's brought me to where I am today.

DENISE LIM

Lim will make her major Games debut in two months when she competes at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She and her partner on the mixed-gender multihull Nacra 17, Justin Liu, qualified last September.

The duo were among the 21 athletes who received official endorsement from the Singapore National Olympic Council last week to represent the Republic in Brazil.

Having suffered heartbreaking misses in previous attempts to make the sailing team for lower-level Games, Lim still finds it surreal she has earned the nod to an event many athletes can only dream of.

She said: "As long as it was a year with a major Games, I would've tried (to be selected)."

From her first attempt that began in 2006, she counts disappointment at three editions of the quadrennial Asian Games and four SEA Games, a biennial event.

The experience touches a raw nerve, even for the plucky athlete.

"Some days I tell myself to just keep going, but sometimes I'm like, it's not working," said Lim, tearing up numerous times as she recalled the choppy waters she has navigated in her sailing career.

Liu, as her sailing partner for the last two years and boyfriend of almost a decade, has seen up close the toll the setbacks took on Lim.

"Everyone always knew that Denise is a talented sailor. Our generation of sailors is a very strong batch, so it's been very competitive through the years," said Liu, himself a two-time 420 Asian Games and 2010 world champion (with Sherman Cheng). "It shows a lot of persistence and passion for the sport on her part, to constantly be able to take the setbacks, come back, and be willing to try again."

A break from high-level competitive sailing after 2010 showed Lim how much she loves - and missed - the sport she started at aged 10.

But she also admits she would not have embarked on a run for the Olympics, one that others had discouraged and written off as "a waste of money", if Liu was not at the helm of their catamaran.

"Stine", as she affectionately calls Liu, "always has a plan" - from scheduling their training and competitions across the globe, to meticulously detailing every expense out of their pockets on spreadsheets.

Said Lim, a nurse: "He rigs up the boat by himself - I don't know how he does it - comes to pick me up at work after my shift ends, and all I have to do is just change and launch.

"I can finish work at 3.30pm and we'd be in the water by 4, even if most people are coming back to shore by then. He helps me a lot by doing all these things that help us train."

The duo leave next week for Rio, where they will be based until the Games begin on Aug 5. But while more practice and time on the Guanabara Bay will help put them in good stead for the shifting winds expected, they both know the magnitude of the Olympics will not quite hit them until the opening ceremony, when they step into the famed Maracana stadium with the rest of the Singapore contingent.

Said Liu, an undergraduate who has deferred his studies: "When you experience something that makes you go 'wow' and you have someone in your life you want to share it with, you really want to capture that moment, that sensation (for her).

"I'm excited we'll both get to experience the Olympic Games from an athlete's perspective and as partners. It's going to be amazing - and worth the wait."

She may have fallen short many times, but for Lim, it has never meant failure. She said: "Everything happens for a reason, and it's brought me to where I am today."

No longer standing on the lower steps of the podium, but about to ascend sport's grandest stage.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2016, with the headline 'Riding the waves en route to Brazil'. Print Edition | Subscribe