Level-headed overachiever

Despite much success in short career, Joey's determined to get even better

National coach Remy Ong, a former world champion, calls Joey Yeo a "hard-to-come- by gem". She clinched ST's Star of the Month award for July after winning the inaugural Bowling World Open in Japan.
National coach Remy Ong, a former world champion, calls Joey Yeo a "hard-to-come- by gem". She clinched ST's Star of the Month award for July after winning the inaugural Bowling World Open in Japan.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

All her life, bowler Joey Yeo has been accustomed to getting a head start on things.

Whether it was waking up early at the crack of dawn to get ready for school or cramming eight training sessions into a week, the 17-year-old has always been a model overachiever.

She first fell in love with the game at the age of three but had to wait five years before she was deemed strong enough to take lessons.

Within a year, her mother Janice had to ask Methodist Girls' School to allow the then-Primary 3 pupil to join the school team, which took in only those in Primary 4 and above back then.

"I couldn't wait to start, even though I was the youngest in the team," said Joey, still a restless ball of energy as she repeatedly brushed back her fringe during the interview earlier this week.

She recalled that she was glued to her television set when her future team-mate New Hui Fen won gold at the 2009 Asian Youth Games and immediately set her mind to become a national bowler.

By 2011, she was a member of the Singapore Bowling Federation's (SBF) development squad.

To get an edge, Joey - who was already working with former national bowler and personal trainer Carl de Vries - joined the Sports Medicine Programme at KK Women's and Children's Hospital to improve her strength and conditioning.

Said mum Janice: "Joey has always been very goal-oriented. When she puts her mind to something, she never stops until she achieves her goals."

The additional training soon paid off as she was promoted to the national women's team - again as the youngest member - in mid-2013, joining the likes of former world champions Shayna Ng and Cherie Tan, as well as her small-screen inspiration New.

Said Joey, who is also a grade-eight pianist and an avid baker: "I always joke with people that I only have 21 hours in a day, instead of 24, because three is already devoted to bowling."

While her national team-mates happily welcomed her into their close-knit group, it was still an intimidating atmosphere for a 16-year-old, even though she had already won a gold medal at the Asian Youth Championships.

"It was a world-class team I was joining and a huge jump for me," noted Joey. "But I told myself to take it positively and try to learn as much as I can from them."

She would prove her worth, helping the Republic claim a historic team gold at last year's Asian Games in Incheon before adding a trios gold and team silver at January's Asian Bowling Championships to her growing resume.

Last month, she further cemented her growing reputation by winning the World Open, a feat that earned her The Straits Times' Star of the Month award for July.

National coach Remy Ong, a former world champion himself and never one prone to excessive praise of his charges, has called Joey a "hard-to-come-by gem", while SBF president Jessie Phua believes the tenacious schoolgirl is the future of the sport.

Despite such lavish praise - as well as the 10 million yen (S$112,924) prize money for her triumph in bowling's richest tournament - the Raffles Institution Year 6 student remains level-headed and determined to continue improving.

"The first things my friends did when I went back to school was hand me a big stack of homework that I had missed," she chuckled.

"Nothing has changed. I'm still the same person, still trying every day to become a better bowler."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 16, 2015, with the headline 'Level-headed overachiever'. Print Edition | Subscribe