Nominee #2: Constance Lien (jiu-jitsu)

MMA: Jiu-jitsu champion Constance Lien's road to success began with hand-written note

Constance Lien was crowned world champion at the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu World Championships last year. She also clinched a gold medal during her SEA Games debut in Manila.
Constance Lien won the U-58.5kg title at the 2019 World IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championships. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Constance Lien won the U-58.5kg title at the 2019 World IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championships. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Lien lives up to the message that is stuck to her wall: 'You will be world champ!#01'

While Nostradamus inked his foretellings in Les Propheties some 465 years ago, Constance Lien scrawled hers on a piece of paper at the start of last year and stuck it on a wall in her room.

Each morning, the first words the national jiu-jitsu exponent saw when she woke up were: "You will be world champ! #01"

Lien, 20, is a martial arts champion, trailblazer and swimmer, and perhaps it is time we add the word soothsayer to that list as her words proved prophetic.

Last May, she won the women's blue belt featherweight (Under-58.5kg) title at the World IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championships in Los Angeles to become Singapore's first female world champion.

"It was a goal I felt was unattainable," said Lien, "but I told myself I wasn't going to be afraid to try.

"I was still going to write it down and put it on my wall. Still, when I returned (from the world championships), I looked at that piece of paper and was like: 'Wow'."

She counts the win in the United States as the peak of an accolade-laden 2019, one that earned her a nomination for The Straits Times Athlete of the Year Award.

Last April, she was named Sportsgirl of the Year by the Singapore National Olympic Council, thanks to her silver at the 2018 Asian Games.

She capped the year with a gold medal at the SEA Games in the Philippines, in the women's ne-waza U-62kg category.

Lien's achievements with the Republic's flag on her gi - the loose white jacket worn by athletes in jiu-jitsu - were all the more remarkable, considering she picked up the discipline only five years ago.

These days she tugs, wrenches, locks and chokes on a rubber mat, but previously, counting kicks and strokes through the water was the norm for her as a national swimmer.

It is in her blood. Her mother is former breaststroke national record holder Yuen Shuang Ching. By six, Lien swam competitively.

But her times began to stagnate in her teens. Worse, she was told her weight was the issue. She spiralled into an eating disorder which lasted almost eight months.

She said: "When I graduated from the Singapore Sports School (at 16), I saw it as an opportunity to put swimming aside for a while, and find something I was really passionate about.

"After going through all that I had, I just wanted to find myself again."

As she struggled with her insecurities, Lien enrolled for a muay thai class at Evolve mixed martial arts gym as a way to keep her mind busy and body fit. This was where she found jiu-jitsu. After falling out of love with swimming, here was a sport that made her feel good again.

"I feel strong and empowered when I do jiu-jitsu," she said.

"Plus, it's the kind of sport where you learn every day.

"It's not repetitive."

Her coach at Evolve, Teco Shinzato, praised his protege's drive.

"There are many who have the talent but are too lazy to put in the time required to train," he said.

"Her determination and focus to get what she wants never wavers."

Lien is also certain about life after competitive sport and wants to become a sports psychologist or counsellor to help athletes struggling with emotional or mental health issues, just as she did.

Her sports story is far from over though. She has graduated from blue belt to purple, meaning at this year's World Championships, she will be gunning for a new title.

She does not plan to remove that piece of paper from her bedroom wall.

"As long as there is a chance of being world champion," she said, "it will remain a dream of mine. So it's staying up there for now."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2020, with the headline 'She has a vision for success'. Print Edition | Subscribe