Through marriage and motherhood, loss of form and motivation, serious and minor injuries, they have repeatedly returned to the SEA Games, each time determined to win more medals for their countries.
The Kuala Lumpur Games, however, will mark the end of an era for several of the region’s veteran stars as they shift their attention to life after competitive sport.
Even the prospect of winning that elusive gold medal at a home Games – the 2019 edition will be held in the Philippines – will not shake Harlene Raguin’s conviction.
The 34-year-old epee fencer, who made her Games debut in 2005 in Manila where she won a team silver, told The Straits Times she has “no regrets, this is definitely my last SEA Games” and that “it’s time for me to be a wife, a mother and raise my two kids”.
She ended her Games journey on Tuesday with a bronze in the individual epee for a total haul of three silvers and four bronzes in seven editions.
Her eldest daughter Rhea Angela, 12, has picked up the sport and is also coached by Raguin’s current mentor Armando Bernal.
Raguin said: “She’s very talented and maybe one day she will accomplish what I never managed to do – win gold for my country.”
SHALIN ZULKIFLI, 39
FIRST SEA GAMES 1993 Singapore
FIRST GOLDS 1993 (trios and team of five)
MEDAL HAUL 18G 4S 6B
HARLENE RAGUIN, 34
FIRST SEA GAMES 2005 Manila
MEDAL HAUL 3S 4B
GAO NING, 34
SPORT Table tennis
FIRST SEA GAMES 2007 Korat
FIRST GOLDS 2007 (men's singles, doubles and team)
MEDAL HAUL 11G 4S 1B
PHAM PHUOC HUNG, 29
FIRST SEA GAMES 2003 Hanoi
FIRST GOLD 2005 Manila (parallel bars)
MEDAL HAUL 5G 7S 3B
Winning gold has never been a big problem for Malaysian bowler Shalin Zulkifli, ever since she made her international debut as a 14-year-old in 1991.
The 39-year-old has won 18 Games golds, including five at the 1999 Brunei Games, and proved that old is gold again at these Games, as she picked up a trios gold yesterday to go with a mixed doubles silver and a singles bronze in the bowling competition at Sunway Mega Lanes.
Yet she said: “I’ve had so many great memories, won so many medals but it’s time to leave the team in the hands of the younger girls.”
She plans to compete until next year’s Asian Games in Indonesia, even with two Asiad golds already to her name. While she did not rule out a ninth SEA Games appearance in 2019, she said it was unlikely.
“Singapore in 2015 was supposed to be my last,” she chuckled. “But the team convinced me to come back for this one in KL. I’m getting old, but if I can still contribute, I’ll try my best.”
Another multiple gold medallist about to say goodbye to the biennial Games is Singapore paddler Gao Ning. The 34-year-old had picked up his fifth singles gold on Tuesday, after triumphs in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2015, but is expected to retire after next year’s Asiad.
Said the world No. 46, now a player-assistant coach: “I’ve done this so many times but the feeling of winning gold is still very special. I feel very blessed.
“I’m not sure of my plans after the Asian Games but I do want to focus on grooming the younger players.
“The three of them (Pang Xue Jie, 24, Clarence Chew, 21 and Ethan Poh, 18) all won medals here and showed promise. I want to push them to keep improving.”
It is a similar sentiment for Vietnam gymnast Pham Phuoc Hung when he retires after this Games.
One of the region’s top gymnasts, the 29-year-old was diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis when he was 18, yet has gone on to represent his country at the last two Olympics.
He made his SEA Games debut in his home town of Hanoi in 2003 and has won five golds plus a host of silvers and bronzes prior to the KL Games, which is widely anticipated to be his last.
Hung picked up his final gold in the team all-around event on Sunday to wrap up his Games career on a high.
He said: “I am the oldest among my team-mates and they are really good. The others, they’ve got great potential too.
“If I retire, I want to help Vietnam gymnastics.”
• Additional reporting by Nicole Chia