For a while, national high jumper Kampton Kam was in denial, and simply tried to "tahan" (endure in Malay) the sharp pain in his chest over a few days last week.
And even after a visit to the doctor revealed the cause of his suffering - a collapsed lung which required surgery and eventually led to his official withdrawal from the SEA Games yesterday - he was still dead set on competing.
The 21-year-old tried to postpone his surgery to after the May 12-23 Games. And when he was told that was not possible, he refused to give up hope.
"I actually tried to bargain with the doctor to drive up to Hanoi to compete, and I was exploring different ways to get to Hanoi without flying," he told The Straits Times last night. "And even if I wasn't able to compete but was cleared to fly, I wanted to go and support my teammates."
He got neither the nod to compete nor fly, and eventually accepted his predicament. He underwent surgery on May 6 and was discharged from hospital three days later.
In hindsight, Kam admitted his medical situation was dire, sheepishly describing the intensity of pain as "81/2 or 9 out of 10" and one that "radiated through my whole chest".
There was a reason for his desperation to compete in Vietnam. He had been in good form and would have been a contender for the gold medal in Hanoi, something that had not been achieved since Noor Azhar Hamid in 1975.
Kam had spent 24 days training with 2004 Olympic champion Stefan Holm in Sweden late last year.
The stint paid dividends. Last month, he cleared 2.20m at the Singapore Open, just 1cm off the gold-winning mark at the 2019 SEA Games, and 2cm off Wong Yew Tong's 1995 national record.
Singapore Athletics vice-president (training and selection) Gary Yeo said the association was informed that Kam's surgery had gone well, and that he was disappointed for the youngster.
"As with all injuries, and in this case a medical condition, it's best to concentrate solely on recovery," said Yeo, a former national sprinter and four-silver SEA Games medallist. "I always advocate for athletes taking as much time as they need."
Kam, who in August will begin his studies at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in a social media post yesterday that he was "devastated at the crushing setback", but vowed he would return stronger.
He told The Straits Times he is hopeful of returning to training in about three weeks, and has set his sights on meeting the 2.33m required to qualify for the World Athletics Championships in Oregon in July.
He may have had his chance at making his mark at these SEA Games taken away, but Kam has still not lost his sense of humour.
"At least I have two full lungs now to push and train harder for future meets and competitions," he quipped.