One last hurrah for squash player Joannah Yue
Squash player Joannah Yue came out of retirement for one final shot at the big time
At her age, most athletes would have thrown in the towel, packed their bags and waved goodbye to a sporting career.
Yet, here was 38-year-old national squash player Joannah Yue, sweating it out with teammate Jerryca Teo, 26, at the Kallang Squash and Tennis Centre in a practice match as the team prepared for the South-east Asia (SEA) Games. This was back in May.
Her younger compatriot was eventually comfortably subdued in a masterful display of strength, speed and, crucially, experience.
This Games is Yue’s return to the big time since the 2001 Kuala Lumpur edition, and her SEA Games swansong.
Speaking to The New Paper recently, Yue, who on Thursday lost her match in Singapore’s 3-0 defeat by Indonesia in the women’s team event, said: “When I came back into the national team last year, I already told myself that this is it. That this is going to be my final SEA Games.
“The timing is perfect. At my age, it’s inevitable that I’ll call it a day, so when better than after this home Games?”
Her comeback trail began at the Kijono Cup in Jakarta in May, 2014, when she finished third in the women’s open event.
She followed that up two months later with an impressive fifth-place finish at the World Masters Squash Championships in Hong Kong in the Over-35 women’s category.
Two weeks later, Yue claimed top spot at the National Squash Championships after beating fellow international Nur Adawiyah Abdul Aziz in the women’s open final, before helping Singapore to a second-place finish at the inaugural South East Asia Cup in March this year.
She said: “I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been my entire life. “But there’s more to it than just being physically fit. I think the 38-year-old me is even better than when I was 18 or 19.
“Age is just a number. As you grow older, you are more aware of what you’re doing, and you know how to play to the best of your ability.
“Sometimes, I can get cramps and pick up injuries because of my age acting against me, so that’s why I’ve developed my game a bit by choosing when to exert my energy, and when to conserve it. “Knowing your own limitations can sometimes be the greatest strength there is for an athlete.”
Yue was first called up to the national team as a 15-year-old way back in 1992, and went on to participate in the 1999 and 2001 SEA Games in Brunei and Malaysia respectively.
She picked up a silver medal in the women’s team event in 1999, before winning bronze in the singles, and silver in the team event again two years later.
Squash was excluded from the Vietnam 2003 roster, and Singapore did not send a team for the 2005 Games in the Philippines.
By 2006, Yue, then 29, decided to leave the national team to focus on her teaching career, as the five-times-a-week training schedule became a little too much to bear.
She taught English at Tampines Secondary School from 2001 to 2007, before spending less than a year teaching at Raffles Girls’ School.
But the lure of the game proved too strong for Yue, and she went on to become the school’s squash coach from 2008 to 2012, before national coach Della Lee brought her back into the fold in April last year.
“It’s funny, because Della was my teammate in the 1999 and 2001 Games, and now, she’s my coach!” said Yue.
“It really helps a lot to have her around, because she knows my game inside out. More than that, she knows what I need to play well.
“When I first came back, she and the rest of the association went out of their way to do things like making a detailed exercise and dietary programme to make sure I get back to my best.”
“Realistically, we are capable of getting the silver in the team event.
“But it’s always good to aim high, so even though we have mighty Malaysia to beat, the dream will always be a gold medal.”
Lee, 47, said Yue’s presence in the team is a blessing for everyone.
“She’s a senior, and she has more experience than anyone else in this team,” she said.
“All those years ago, when she was my teammate, and even up to this day, she is an exemplary athlete.
Her commitment is beyond question.
“The most important thing about having her in the team is her ability to unite us. Realistically, we are gunning for two bronzes and a silver in the men’s and women’s events respectively.
“That’s where Joannah comes in. Every successful team has an unmistakable bond and unity. She is the best candidate to help us in that aspect, through her motivational skills and experience.”