Team above self
NJC's Koi Kiat always has interests of teammates at heart
He won the Senior Men's C1 category at the Singapore Canoe Marathon in January and the prize was an Olympic-standard craft boat.
The first thought that came to National Junior College (NJC) student Chong Koi Kiat's mind was to sell it, so that he could buy more equipment for his school's canoeing team.
"I felt that it was because of the school's belief in me that I managed to get it," said the 17-year-old, who joined NJC's canoeing team when he was a Secondary 1 student in the school's Integrated Programme.
"I felt like I owed it to them and, if the school needs more equipment like life jackets or paddles, I wanted to give it to them."
Koi Kiat was eventually told he could keep his prize. Now, to him, the boat is a symbol of perseverance and teamwork.
Explaining that he had used the boat to train for his South-east Asia (SEA) Games debut in June, the teenager said: "Using the boat reminds me of pushing through difficulty and working as a team, because my school teammates let me ride on their wash during the race at the Singapore Canoe Marathon.
"This meant that by using the back wash from their boats, which is allowed in canoeing, I didn't have to expend so much energy during the race.
"So, every time I use the boat, I am reminded of how my team supported me, and it definitely helped when I trained for the SEA Games."
Support from his teammates and loved ones also helped Koi Kiat recover from a bad first race during the biennial Games to clinch a silver medal in his next race - the two-man 200m event with Tan Chin Chuen.
"I didn't do that well in my first race after getting hit by a wave from the Indonesian boat during the C1 1,000m event, and it really demoralised me," said the JC2 student (above).
"But my coach told me to just shrug it off, and my friends and family kept on encouraging me.
"That was one of my hardest races, and hearing the cheers and roars from the crowd really spurred me on."
The SEA Games silver was a step up from the two gold medals (C1 500m and C1 1,000m) he won in the A Division of the National Inter-School Canoeing Championships in April this year.
To NJC's teacher-in-charge of canoeing Tan Joe-sie, Koi Kiat is a student who has matured from a "very playful and very cheeky" boy to a captain whom the younger students can look up to.
"I didn't think we would elect him as captain," said Tan, who has known Koi Kiat for four years.
"It was under the recommendation of other teachers-in-charge that he was made captain last year and even then I was apprehensive."
"But, from my experience, the biggest change in boys occurs when they are 17 or 18 years old and I saw how he matured to become someone much more responsible.
"He thinks through his actions carefully and now I'm glad he was made captain, because he is a good influence not just on his peers, but also his juniors."