Deborah Lee (Eunoia Junior College, hockey)

Winning road to recovery

Sideline spell fuels goalkeeper's grit to keep clean sheet through entire hockey tourney

Once the initial shock had subsided, a wave of euphoria engulfed Eunoia Junior College (EJC) goalkeeper Deborah Lee after realising her heroics had helped her school win their first Schools Nationals A Division girls' hockey title.

Seconds before, she had made a decisive penalty save that gave EJC a 1-0 penalty shoot-out win at Sengkang Hockey Stadium.

Last month's victory snapped Victoria Junior College's 16-year reign as champions and capped a fairy-tale season for the 18-year-old, who did not concede a single goal throughout the competition.

The lead-up to that victorious moment was far from smooth sailing.

Just two months before the competition, Deborah was sidelined after suffering a grade 1 medial collateral ligament injury.

She waited nervously to see if she would recover in time for the season, and watching her teammates train was a painful reminder of where she wanted to be.

Deborah Lee made a swift return from injury to Eunoia Junior College's hockey team and played a key role in goal, keeping out all their opponents en route to the A Division championship.
Deborah Lee made a swift return from injury to Eunoia Junior College's hockey team and played a key role in goal, keeping out all their opponents en route to the A Division championship. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE KIAT

Deborah recalled: "It was torturous because I couldn't move and had to watch my teammates play and do drills without me. I felt very left out and really wanted to train again."

She returned to training just weeks before the competition started, but she was worried about not being at her best after her month-long absence.

"It was a hard time for me because I was really unsure of myself and whether everything will turn out okay," the Year 2 student said.

She took great pains to look after her knee, going for physiotherapy and icing it after each training session. And, with the support of the people around her, Deborah gradually rediscovered her confidence.

She kept a clean sheet in the first game - a 6-0 win over Anglo-Chinese Junior College - and the rest is history.

For the grit she showed to overcome her injury setback and the key role she played in her school's first A Division triumph, Deborah was named The Straits Times' Young Star of the Month, an award backed by 100Plus and given to school athletes who have shone during the Schools Nationals.

ST deputy sports editor Lim Han Ming said: "Recovering from a serious injury is already an uphill task for any athlete.

"Not only did Deborah keep her chin up in her recovery, she also worked hard to get into shape for the Schools Nationals and achieved the rare feat of not conceding a single goal the entire tournament.

"Her story is an inspiration to all student-athletes."

The award came as a pleasant surprise for Deborah, who was quick to pay tribute to her teammates for their constant support on and off the field.

There was a spirit of togetherness in the squad as they were determined to avenge last year's heartbreaking 1-0 loss to the same opponents in the final.

She said: "It was not an easy journey, but we did our best and managed to achieve our goal. It was our best season yet."

EJC coach Robin Ng, who has mentored Deborah for six years, is impressed by the way his protege has progressed in the last two years.

Ng, 44, said: "She's more confident now. She commands the defence and is more aware of the game.

"Her confidence on the pitch gives confidence to the other players."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2019, with the headline 'Winning road to recovery'. Print Edition | Subscribe