Success is a family affair

Team Schooling include Colin and May, seen here with the medals and accolades their son Joseph has accumulated over the years.
Team Schooling include Colin and May, seen here with the medals and accolades their son Joseph has accumulated over the years.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Joseph says he's indebted to his parents for their strong support

Locked away safely in a cabinet in Colin Schooling's office is his son Joseph's 100m butterfly bronze medal from the recent World Championships in Kazan.

It sits next to Joseph's Commonwealth Games swimming silver, and his Asian Games gold, silver and bronze medals.

Some athletes like to keep their medals. A medal is, after all, a testament of their progress, a motivation to train harder and a vindication of their sacrifice, as they go through the daily grind of training.

But Joseph, an only child who spends some 10 months away from home each year training in the United States, hands over his medals to his parents Colin and May almost immediately after each race.


Son, the Kazan medal looks very nice...

I don't care what colour you win, just bring one back for daddy to see, lah.

COLIN SCHOOLING who uses humour to take the pressure off Joseph

Not because they mean nothing but because, deep down inside, he knows each race he wins is the result of his effort in the pool and his parents' out of it.

The 20-year-old University of Texas (UT) student, who spoke to The Sunday Times when he was in town for the recent Fina World Junior Championships, said: "I'm just glad that I can do well not just for myself but for them also.

"Each medal reflects directly on what they have done for me, and I'm proud to have achieved all that for my parents."

It all started when an adolescent Joseph told his parents he wanted to win an Olympic medal.

And as their son's obsession with swimming grew, so did Colin and May's devotion to ensuring that he received all the help he needed along the way.

On Colin's office bookshelf are stacks of folders comprising Joseph's physical data, painstakingly collected over the years.

In one is a biomechanist's report, done when Joseph was only 10. In the same folder lies a sheet of paper with a "height equation" - a complex algorithm from a Chinese physician that predicted Joseph's eventual height, to give them an idea of how he would fare in a field of giants. American 18-time Olympic champion Michael Phelps is 1.93m. South African Chad le Clos and Hungarian Laszlo Cseh are 1.88m.

For the record, the range deduced was 1.83-1.89m. Joseph is 1.84m now.

And then there are the books on the sport, such as Championship Swim Training by Bill Sweetenham and John Atkinson, which looks at maximising one's potential and is written by two men who trained Olympic champions.

All over the office are pictures of Joseph swimming, and the certificates and accolades he has earned, the latest being The Straits Times Star of the Month award for August.

It is an extension of ST's Athlete of the Year accolade, launched in 2008. Both are backed by F&N's 100Plus.

His voice cracking slightly with emotion, Joseph said: "I couldn't have two better parents, two better role models to help me on my life forward."

Now, there is a thin layer of dust over the books and folders - because the Schoolings know their son is well taken care of under Eddie Reese, former head coach of the US men's Olympic swim team.

Reese, 74, trains the Longhorns, the nickname for UT's athletes.

So the parents channel their energies elsewhere, such as coming up with a travel check-list card, plastered all over Joseph's Austin apartment so he does not forget anything before an overseas meet.

Colin, a businessman, said: "We just want the best for my son. I'm thankful I am blessed with the means to be able to do so."

May added: "This is like a journey we are all on together. There are many sacrifices, it's not easy but it's also very exciting."

Their teamwork came into play in Kazan, the night before Joseph's final race at the World Championships. It was his last chance to win a medal, after finishing seventh in the 50m fly and bowing out in the semi-finals of the 200m fly.

Being the fierce competitor he is, and with an expectant nation watching after he became the first Singaporean athlete to be granted deferment for full-time national service, the pressure on his young shoulders was immense.

Colin, 67, a man with a wicked sense of humour, knew he had to step in.

He rang Joseph and teased: "Son, the Kazan medal looks very nice. I watched the documentary on how it was made. I don't care what colour you win, just bring one back for daddy to see, lah."

Recounted Colin: "That's my way of helping him cope with the pressure that he always puts on himself - by making him laugh."

Next for Team Schooling is another shot at history, as Joseph aims for a medal at the Rio Olympics.

But count on the trio to leave no stone unturned, just like they have always done.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 13, 2015, with the headline 'SUCCESS IS A FAMILY AFFAIR'. Print Edition | Subscribe