SINGAPORE - It has been a hectic two years for silat exponent Nujaid Hasif Zainal Abidin, who had to juggle his academic studies with his career as a national athlete - all this while struggling with the curveball that Covid-19 threw him last year.
But Hasif's efforts paid off on Monday (Jan 4) when the 20-year-old emerged as the Singapore Sports School's (SSP) top scorer in the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma examinations with a score of 44 out of a maximum 45 points.
Hasif, who had called time on his career in June last year, six months after winning gold at the 2019 SEA Games, said: "After receiving my results, I couldn't process it because everything just happened so fast I can't really remember it. But I thought 'I actually did it'.
"I set this goal (of 44 points) for myself and at the back of my mind, I thought even if I fall short, at least it's still quite a good score. I never thought that I would actually reach that goal."
The silat exponent said his flexible school schedule and being part of the extended IB programme, which saw him complete the syllabus in four years instead of the usual two, had helped him achieve his target.
"The academic rigour was a lot lighter and I had time to focus on recovery or training. When I had free time, I would use it to catch up on school work," he said.
The Jakarta Asian Games in 2018 proved to be a hectic period as he had to sit for his preliminary exams after the Games without any make-up classes.
Hasif recounted: "While everyone was recovering and doing rehabilitation after each day, I had to take out my laptop and finish my essays. But the people around me were always understanding of when I needed to focus more on training or school work."
Home-based learning during the circuit breaker period last year also threw up another challenge as he found studying and learning content harder over Zoom.
With his exams out of the way, Hasif, who has not decided on which university to enrol in, is now focused on spending time with his family of eight before he enlists for national service (NS) next Tuesday.
Other SSP student-athletes who received good news when the results were released on Monday were national squash champion Au Yeong Wai Yhann and shooter Ho Xiu Yi - who won a silver in the women's individual 10m air rifle event at the 2019 SEA Games - who scored 43 and 38 respectively.
Au Yeong, who won two silvers and a bronze in the 2019 SEA Games, was relieved to score 43 after a year of mental disruptions owing to Covid-19.
"When you're going to sit for an exam, you feel more assured when you have face-to-face contact with your teachers going through whatever you're unsure of, but we did a lot of Zoom," said Au Yeong, 21, who plans to study psychology at the University of Edinburgh.
"But it was also a blessing in disguise because there weren't many competitions to participate in and with no travelling at all, I managed to put a bit more time into studying."
Ho, 20, is gunning for a place at the Tokyo Olympic Games this year, said the challenge of balancing competitions with her studies was made easier by her teachers.
Aside from student-athletes from SSP, national swimmer Jonathan Tan was also celebrating on Monday after the Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) student received a pleasant surprise in the form of his 41-point IB score.
Tan, 18, said: "I told myself that anything above 40 would be good because I was planning to complete this year but because of Covid-19, I decided to take the exam last year.
"The transition was quite tough because I was away quite a lot in 2019 for training camps and competitions so I had quite a lot to catch up on and I had to change gear mentally."
The teenager, who is also aiming to qualify for the Olympics, added: "What keeps me going when it's tough is my passion for swimming. I love it and want to do well in it."