SINGAPORE - Jiu-jitsu exponent Constance Lien is used to training five hours a day, but after a bout of Covid-19 in February, she found herself struggling to even complete a 45-minute session without her head pounding.
Given she could barely do runs beyond five minutes on the treadmill despite testing negative soon after the infection, it was a pleasant surprise to the 2019 SEA Games champion that she managed to clinch a bronze medal in the Under-63kg class at the March 28-31 Jiu-jitsu Asian Championships in Manama, Bahrain.
The 22-year-old, a silver medallist at the 2018 Asian Games, said: "It was physically and mentally tiring leading up to these games and for me I'm a perfectionist, I always want to excel so that was really tough.
"But given all those circumstances, I'm actually really proud of myself that the first huge competition overseas, I actually made it to the podium and I qualified myself a position for the Asian Games and I think the way I performed was commendable."
Lien was also glad to be competing internationally again for the first time since the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines. She had been looking forward to 2020 after bagging golds at both the SEA Games and World Championships, but the pandemic threw her plans into disarray and left her feeling lost.
Lien then decided to take a break from the sport last year to focus on her mental well-being and explore her other passions outside of sport, which included driving mental health initiatives.
She said: "I wasn't sure whether I wanted to come back to jiu-jitsu because it was very frustrating when Covid first started. As an athlete, it was mentally draining like you're training but you don't know what you're training for. As athletes, we are very goal driven and that forced me to view the sport as more than just a goal.
"I always felt winning and losing is literally life for me and I couldn't lose because I wouldn't know what to do with myself the next day. The pandemic has slowed my competitive process down and forced me into self-reflecting and realising I cannot be so outcome driven because that's not sustainable as an athlete."
Also finishing on the podium in Manama were Teh May Yong and Amirul Syafiq, who clinched silvers in the U-48kg and U-62kg categories respectively.
Both had come into the competition aiming to secure an Asian Games berth, which is a sixth placing, but exceeded their expectations as they made it to the final of their events.
Teh, 28, attributed her fine run to a good support system comprising her coach Robyn Goudy, national coach Teco Shinzato, team manager Jack Tran and her teammates.
The civil servant, who was beaten by the United Arab Emirates' (UAE) Abdoh Abdulla Balqees Abdul Kareem in the final, said the result at the Asian Championships was encouraging and also enabled her to see where she needs to improve.
She said: "I was surprised to even get into final so the loss was not a loss to me because it was already beyond what I'd expected. When I went to the final, it was a big bonus for myself and more about gaining experience.
"But I somehow managed to get into that dominant position, which is a big win for me. It gave me a lot more confidence to show that actually with a little bit more training, I can go further than that."
While he was disappointed about missing out on the gold medal, Amirul, who lost to UAE's Alshehhi Khaled in the final, also felt that there were lessons to take away from the competition.
The 28-year-old was also determined to try and qualify for the Asian Games after narrowly missing out on this year's SEA Games squad and had been training daily in preparation for the Asian Championships.
The operations manager said: "I just wanted to make sure that this time round, I left no stones unturned and do my best to make it to the Asian Games without any hiccups.
"It's actually unexpected because the goal initially was just to make it to the national team, then to the SEA Games and just progress from there. It was just six to eight months of training every day just to make the team and even after that, I was lucky not to get injured, everything was going well so that's what really helped me."
Among those who finished in the top six at the Asian Championships were brothers Noah Lim (U-69kg) and Paul Lim (U-77kg), who won a gold and bronze medal at the 2019 SEA Games respectively, and Aacus Ee (U-85kg).
They all came in joint-fifth in their respective events and are hoping to get the nod for the Asian Games.
Jujitsu Association of Singapore vice-president May Ooi said: "This is a good outing for the squad considering the lack of international competition these last two years. The team did an amazing job out in Bahrain and fought their hearts out.
"Spirits are high in the camp and this is a good gauge in where Singapore stands in the international jiu-jitsu arena. If the athletes can stay injury-free and continue training consistently, we will be looking forward to a bountiful harvest at the coming SEA Games in Hanoi."