SEA Games: 4 athletes who overcame adversity to win gold

Clockwise from top left: Swimmer Roanne Ho, wakeboarder Sasha Christian, cyclist Calvin Sim and fencer Amita Berthier all overcame their personal obstacles to win gold at the SEA Games.
Clockwise from top left: Swimmer Roanne Ho, wakeboarder Sasha Christian, cyclist Calvin Sim and fencer Amita Berthier all overcame their personal obstacles to win gold at the SEA Games. ST PHOTOS: LIM SIN THAI, NG SOR LUAN, KUA CHEE SIONG

Behind each gold-winning athlete at the SEA Games is a stirring story of overcoming massive odds, debilitating injuries or even personal tragedy

SINGAPORE - A gold medal at the SEA Games means so much more to some athletes. 

Just ask swimmer Roanne Ho, who despite undergoing two operations for a collapsed lung and a shoulder tear, still managed to retain her 50m breaststroke title. 

Or wakeboarder Sasha Christian, who broke her right fibula last July and had to race against time to be fit for the regional meet. 

Fencer Amita Berthier had to overcome personal loss when her father died suddenly at the age of 51 last year, while cyclist Calvin Sim juggled a full-time job with his training commitments. 

Here are their stories. 

1. Roanne Ho

In a bare conference room, surrounded by silence, she sits, this tall, striking, talented woman, and weeps into her hands. Weeps for a friend who didn't get a medal at the SEA Games. Weeps at her own bruising journey. Weeps because the vibrant athletic life can turn into a long, lonely struggle where your lung collapses and shoulder tears, and all you dreamed of and woke up for starts to drift out of reach.


Roanne Ho won the 50m breaststroke at last month's 29th SEA Games in a time of 31.29 seconds, breaking her own national and SEA Games record (31.45sec) and retaining her title from two years ago. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

On her bad days through the last 20 months, Roanne Ho, 24, the 50m breaststroke champion from the 2015 SEA Games, won't go to practice "because I couldn't deal with it" and sits at home and mopes.

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2. Sasha Christian


Despite being unable to return to the water during a prolonged recovery period after breaking her right fibula last year, Sasha Christian used an ingenious training method instead, using a palm tree as a tether while working on her waterskiing posture. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

If necessity is the mother of invention, Sasha Christian walks and talks it, as her ingenuity led her to complete a hat-trick of SEA Games wakeboarding gold medals (2011, 2015, 2017) last week.

When the 24-year-old - one of Singapore's leading lights in watersports - broke her right fibula last July after landing on one leg in the water during practice, it was a race against time to be fit for the biennial regional meet.

Instead of moping around during her recovery period, Christian - who also won two SEA Games waterski slalom titles (2015, 2017) - began using improvised equipment and training methods.

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3. Amita Berthier 


Amita Berthier, 16, won one of Singapore's two fencing gold medals at the SEA Games, a year after her dad Eric died. Amita holds a portrait of her father, who supported her in ways small and big. He was, among other things, her chief cheerleader, chauffeur and alarm clock. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Amita Berthier lost her biggest supporter, but that did not stop her from becoming a SEA Games gold medallist.

The 16-year-old's father Eric died suddenly at the age of 51 last year. With his passing, Amita was deprived of her chief cheerleader.

Dad, after all, was a big supporter of his four children's sporting pursuits. As an Arsenal fan, he enrolled Amita and her older sister Aarya in the JSSL Singapore football academy and bought Gunners' jerseys for them. Amita was then five while Aarya was a year older.

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4. Calvin Sim


Cyclist Calvin Sim allows himself one big dream - that his SEA Games gold medal will eventually lead to a local velodrome. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Cycling is a balancing act - especially when racing at an elite level. For national cyclist Calvin Sim, this meant not just staying up on his bike, but also staying afloat financially.

The journey to his SEA Games omnium gold medal began not last week at the National Velodrome in Nilai town in Negri Sembilan, but when he sat down to plan his campaign last year.

He realised he needed to carefully budget his savings of $8,000 for quality training, if he were to win a medal in Kuala Lumpur.

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