Colin Schooling, father of Olympic swimming champion Joseph, dies aged 73

In the past few months, Colin Schooling had undergone treatment after being diagnosed with liver cancer in June. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE
Colin married May Yim in 1983. After three miscarriages, Joseph was born in 1995. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE
With their only child showing an aptitude and desire for competitive swimming, Colin and May spared no resources and effort to help Joseph fulfil his potential. PHOTO: ST FILE
Colin and May Schooling spent in excess of $1 million to finance Joseph's training stint in the US. PHOTO: ST FILE
Colin Schooling also painstakingly devised swimming contraptions. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Colin Schooling, father of Singapore's only Olympic champion Joseph Schooling, died on Thursday (Nov 18). He was 73.

In the past few months, the former national softball player and retired businessman had undergone treatment after being diagnosed with liver cancer in June.

Thanking well-wishers on Instagram, Joseph, 26, wrote: "Dad fought till the end. Much love to everyone."

Colin was a versatile athlete and his uncle was Lloyd Valberg, who was the first Singaporean to compete at the Olympics when he participated in the high jump event at London 1948.

Educated at Raffles Institution, Colin dabbled with hurdling and water polo before going on to become a national softball player.

In 1983, he married May Yim, whom he had first met at a Pesta Sukan softball tournament in Penang in the 1960s when she was part of the Perak team and he was representing the Republic in the Pirates team.

After three miscarriages, Joseph was born in 1995.

With their only child showing an aptitude and desire for competitive swimming, Colin and May spared no resources and effort to help Joseph fulfil his potential and realise his dream of becoming an Olympic champion.

On top of spending in excess of $1 million - they sold a house in Perth and cashed out on an endowment plan - to finance Joseph's training stint in the United States, Colin also painstakingly devised swimming contraptions that perhaps should one day take pride of place in the Singapore Sports Museum.

May posted on Instagram on Thursday: "It is hard to say goodbye, so let's begin with 'see you again'.

"A loving father, a supportive brother, an outgoing uncle, a loyal friend, my husband. Colin is a character on its own. All who personally know him, will know what I'm talking about. He speaks freely and passionately, and that is one of the things that I will miss about him.

"He will be missed but let's celebrate his freedom from pain and suffering and his reunion with The One above. A tough fighter indeed."

In 2016, Joseph touched the wall first in the 100m butterfly final at the Rio Olympics, setting a new Games record while beating American great Michael Phelps.

In February 2017, the Schooling family were named The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2016.

Colin and May Schooling with The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2016 award and an Olympic picture of Joseph during the award ceremony. PHOTO: ST FILE

But Colin was clear what mattered most - that his son grew up to become "an officer and a gentleman".

Joseph interviewed his father for the website Wear Oh Where in 2019, and recalled some of his fondest memories with his dad.

There were the sacred "golf games", bowling trips to Kuala Lumpur at a hotel with an "old and run down" alley, the makan sessions at the Lagoon hawker centre at East Coast Park, and even the regular, simple car rides in which Joseph preferred Colin to May as the driver.

Joseph's last question for his father was to ask what his definition of success was.

Colin replied: "Success is being able to look at yourself in the mirror, and be comfortable with the image that you see reflected.

"So long as you can see yourself and be comfortable, and be happy and satisfied that you have done no wrong to anybody. Just being happy with yourself. I think that is success."

Joseph Schooling with his parents May and Colin at Parliament House in 2016. Joseph Schooling had received a 30-second long standing ovation in Parliament for his historic gold medal achievement at the Rio Olympics. PHOTO: ST FILE

Singapore National Olympic Council president Tan Chuan-Jin paid tribute to Colin and May. He said: "They had no handbook nor prior examples, took the road less travelled, and made huge sacrifices to invest in Joseph's potential.

"Despite no formal training, Colin's sheer tenacity meant he collected thick compilations of statistics and research over the years, and had these knowledge and information at his fingertips.

"Their belief became Singapore's pride, and they then selflessly shared their achievements with the rest of the country, hoping only that their journey would help lead to more champions. Colin and May blazed a trail and ventured where few dared.

"In all my interactions with Colin, despite the success of his son, Colin always remained grounded and was a quintessential gentleman in every way.

"We will miss Colin dearly and extend our deepest condolences to May and Joseph."

SPH Brightcove Video
The parents of Singapore's top swimmer Joseph Schooling tell the Straits Times why they sent Joseph for lessons and recount the day they started taking his swimming seriously.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong also offered his condolences to the Schooling family. He said: "I was told he fought the disease robustly, head on, right till the end, with everything he had, and with all his might. This is just as he was, all through his life. He's lost his last fight, but the silver lining is that he's no longer suffering.

"As an elite sportsman himself, he believed in the power of sport. He knew how sports was such a great leveller, could change lives, bridge communities and build society. My conversations with him, long before I came into MCCY, has helped shape my own views on sports...

"Colin also had time for others. He was more than generous with his time and strongly supported my fund-raising efforts to upgrade the playschool and kindergarten at Sparkletots Joo Chiat.

"We will miss Colin. But we are heartened that what he stood for will carry on. The trail which he and his family has blazed, along with the sheer belief, his tenacity and courage of conviction in sports, will be the legacy he leaves for Singapore."

Singapore Swimming Association president Lee Kok Choy expressed his sadness as he lost "a dear friend".

He added: "As Colin, together with May, journeyed with Joseph to win his Olympic gold medal, he showed what can be achieved if you really believed in your child.

"He blazed a trail for fathers supporting their children in high performance sports.

"He always did all he could to advance swimming in Singapore and inspired us to do our best."

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