Home is where paddler Isabelle's heart is
Paddler Li counts on support from family and friends as she makes her 'home' SEA Games debut
In her younger days, paddler Isabelle Li would be upset if she lost a training match, scored 98 out of 100 marks in a primary school mathematics test, or even got beaten in a game of checkers.
But one incident when she was 14 made the Singaporean realise that there was something far more important than winning.
"I remember that when I was 14, I was heartbroken after losing the girls' singles final of the SEA (South-east Asia) Junior Championships," recalled the 20-year-old in a recent interview for a video commissioned by the Singapore Table Tennis Association.
"My mother didn't blame me or talk to me about my match, she just sat beside me, watched me cry, and embraced me.
"When we went back home, she gave me a card, on which she wrote about how much she loved me, and that it was okay to fail."
"I remembered then that having that unconditional love was actually better than striking gold," added the 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) girls' singles silver medallist.
Support from friends and family has been the bedrock of the defensive specialist's budding table tennis career, often changing their schedules to accommodate hers.
Isabelle said: "Honestly, it was a struggle to juggle table tennis, my studies and spending time with my family and friends.
"That's why the kind of support I get from my family and friends is really important. It's what keeps me going, especially since I am always travelling to different places to compete."
"You need somewhere to go back to, and that place is home," added the Singapore Sports School alumna, who turned full-time after graduating from Republic Polytechnic last May.
Since the YOG, Isabelle has already won two women's singles silver medals and a women's team gold at the 2011 and 2013 SEA Games, and she is raring to have a go at the biennial Games again when Singapore play host next month.
She said: "It's going to be a special experience for me and I am already excited thinking about it being held here.
"It holds a very special significance for me, something I am really looking forward to and it gives me a lot more motivation to push harder during training.
"When I went into the YOG, I didn't know what to expect... but I am more mature with my game now. I am going there knowing what to expect, and more confident of myself."
The Olympic Games is a long-term goal for the world No. 110, who describes herself as "childish", "fun" and "pretty crazy" when she's around friends and family.
But, regardless of her achievements, her journey in the sport, which began in Primary 3 in Chongfu Primary School, is one that she will cherish for the rest of her life.
She said: "Before I had the chance to step onto the podium, I thought I would feel a great deal of happiness or satisfaction from having realised a dream.
"But it wasn't just that, but also a sense of gratitude that comes from deep within me, about how so many things have to come together to make it happen.
"It can be encouragement from strangers, to people selflessly investing time and effort into mentoring you.
"Sometimes when I think about it, the magnitude of this entire journey overwhelms me because these people don't really get the credit they deserve, and they weren't thinking about it when they did it.
"It is a huge part of what keeps me going in my journey."
DID YOU KNOW?
1 Isabelle Li is a Christian who attends youth ministry and Sunday services whenever her schedule allows.
2 She used to roller blade and go out for late-night ice cream sessions with her sister Christabelle before both got busy with their own lives. These days, Isabelle will chill at home with her mother Sim Kwang Hung, playing on their iPads.
3 She dislikes dining in restaurants. She prefers hawker fare like chicken wings and satay, even though she knows it is “not very healthy”.