Ching Hwee, 13, is a fiesty fighter
Despite early setbacks, Ching Hwee, 13, is on track for next year's SEA Games
She turned 13 just last month.
But even before she blew out the candles on her birthday cake, swimmer Gan Ching Hwee had already achieved a milestone in the pool.
At the National Swimming Championships in June, the Methodist Girls' School student clocked 5min 01.06sec in the 400m individual medley.
The time is just one and a half seconds off the bronze-medal winning mark (4:59.52) at last year's South-east Asia Games.
Little wonder then, that Ching Hwee, who stands at 1.62m and weighs 48kg, is being tipped for big things.
Said her coach at the Chinese Swimming Club (CSC), Eugene Chia: "She's small-sized but feisty... Like a chilli padi. She has a strong spirit.
"Right now, she has an injured shoulder so in training, I tell her to tell me if she can't take it... But she still keeps pushing herself."
What is even more remarkable is that the 400m IM is not Ching Hwee's pet event.
She prefers swimming long-distance freestyle - 400m or 800m - and swept a 200m and 400m freestyle double in the 'C' Division at the National Inter-School Swimming Championships in April.
That performance earned her a ticket to Thailand last month, to represent Singapore at the Asean School Games.
Despite competing against swimmers who were up to four years her senior, Ching Hwee managed to win a bronze medal in the 100m freestyle event. She also bagged another two bronzes in two relay events
But the teenager herself will tell you it is not all natural talent.
She started swimming at the CSC at four years old, but did not win any competitive race until she was 12.
She even considered stopping swimming because of her failures early on, but Chia encouraged her to keep the faith.
"Now as she slowly comes of age in secondary school, where there are longer distance events she is better in, she can see she's able to push through," said the former national assistant coach.
Ching Hwee's days revolve around swimming.
Twice a week, she wakes up at 5am to train in the morning, then goes to school a little later than her peers - she has permission to.
When school ends, she heads straight back home in Marine Parade, does some homework and then heads to the CSC for her daily evening training sessions.
After that, it's back home for dinner, more revision, and then sleep.
It is a testing daily routine, but one that Ching Hwee loves.
"If I didnt pick up swimming, I have no idea what else I'd do," she said, with a toothy grin.
"Swimming has allowed me to learn a few life lessons, such as success doesn't come without hard work, and you have to put in effort to see results.
"I've had some setbacks and failures in the past, like not meeting goals I had set for myself.
"But I take it as motivation to allow me to learn from my mistakes and swim faster the next time round."
Her mother, Lee Chui Leng, told TNP: "She's very disciplined. We're fortunate she takes charge of her own schoolwork and swimming.
"For example, she sets her own alarm to go to training, gets up, gets breakfast, does schoolwork... All without us having to push her. She's a very self-motivated child."
If Ching Hwee needs extra motivation in the pool, she got it last weekend.
She was among 70 young swimmers and their parents who congregated at CSC to watch Joseph Schooling power to an historic first Olympic gold medal for Singapore, in the 100m butterfly final in Rio.
Her eyes lit up when she recalled watching Schooling's feat.
"Yah, he was leading almost all the way!" she exclaimed.
"Everyone was cheering and when he touched the wall, we all just screamed... I was so proud of him and what he achieved.
"It has definitely motivated me to keep pursuing my dreams as a swimming athlete. Now, everyone in Singapore is talking about swimming."
Chia said that the club's original target for Ching Hwee was to make the cut for the 2019 SEA Games but, after she clocked promising times recently, the next biennial in Kuala Lumpur in a year's time is a possibility.
Said the coach: "For her right now, it's just a matter of progressing, from the SEA Games, to Asian Games, and the Commonwealth Games.
"She has told me she wants to go to the Olympics.
"Definitely, with what she's displaying at this age, if guided properly, she stands a good chance of making Olympic cuts in the future."
"Not everyone has the privilege of going overseas so there has to be a local solution, and I think that’s something that we are hoping to provide."
— Singapore Swimming Association vice-president (swimming) Joscelin Yeo on retaining talent