SINGAPORE - One of Lionel Khoo's earliest memories of swimming was fear. He was afraid of the water until he, then just three years old, was shoved by a friend into the Chinese Swimming Club pool.
Khoo does all the pushing now and the 22-year-old will leave next week to study and train at the University of South Carolina.
He joins senior national swimmers such as Joseph Schooling (University of Texas at Austin), Quah Zheng Wen (UC Berkeley) and Quah Jing Wen (Texas A&M) in the United States.
"I would like to thank SMU (Singapore Management University), NTC (National Training Centre) and the SSI (Singapore Sports Institute) for providing me with the best possible opportunity in Singapore to pursue my sporting and academic goals," said the breaststroke specialist, who withdrew from his business course at SMU earlier this week.
"However, I have always wanted to experience living, studying and training in a different country and now that the opportunity has come up, I am looking forward to it."
"South Carolina will allow me to continue what I have been studying at SMU. They have a good swim programme, and they have a good set-up with good coaches. I spoke to them on the phone and I like what they have to offer," added Khoo, who has been offered a scholarship by the university.
The 1.78m Khoo has progressed steadily under head coach Gary Tan's guidance at the NTC - he rewrote national records in the long-course 200m breast (2min 15.27sec), as well as the 50m breast (27.31sec) and 100m breast (59.65sec) in the short-course formats last year.
He also won a bronze medal in the 50m breast at the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur last year.
Former national swimmer Tan, 35, said: "It (the move to the United States) will benefit him as he will be exposed to more high-level competitions and he will be able to manage both swimming and school in the same facility."
The South Carolina Gamecocks are helmed by head coach McGee Moody, who is into his 10th season in charge of the team.
The Gamecocks finished 19th in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Swimming Championships last season.
At South Carolina, Khoo will train with the likes of Nils Wich-Glasen, who finished eighth and sixth in the 100-yard and 200-yard breast events respectively at the NCAA finals last year.
However, Khoo will leave for the US with his eligibility to compete in NCAA competitions yet to be cleared.
But he said: "The NCAA has put in another request for me to have immediate eligibility. Otherwise, I will be eligible to represent South Carolina (only) in January 2019, although I will still be able to train with the team and to compete for Singapore.
"I look forward to coming back in the summers to train with Gary and the rest of the (NTC) team."