Paragliding athlete Jessica Goh aiming for the skies
Paragliding athlete Jessica Goh hopes to raise her sport's profile, eyes Asiad medal
When Jessica Goh accompanied a friend to a paragliding course in Malaysia in 2012, little did she know that she had also embarked on a life-changing path.
Flying in the air with a glider gave her a bird's-eye view of the scenery and a sense of serenity. She was hooked.
She said: "When I started paragliding, I didn't have any expectations. It was just another item on my bucket list. I got hooked on it and never looked back since."
Three months later, she attended a paragliding competition in Taiwan and was so enthralled by the skills of the paragliding athletes that she quit her executive job in a Singapore firm to train full-time under a coach in Sabah.
Goh's efforts bore fruit three years later when she emerged as the female champion of the Paragliding Accuracy World Cup, which saw her compete in China, Serbia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Bulgaria.
The 39-year-old will be representing Singapore at the Aug 18-Sept 2 Asian Games in Indonesia, where paragliding will be making its debut at the continental meet.
In paragliding, athletes depend on thermals - rising columns of hot air - to propel their gliders.
Besides knowing where to find thermals, other skills like cloud-reading are also essential- for instance, the presence of cumulonimbus clouds would warn of impending rain.
At this Asiad, Goh will be competing in two events - accuracy and cross country - in Puncak, about 80km south of Jakarta.
In accuracy events, athletes take off from an elevated spot on a hill and attempt to land precisely on a 2cm bull's eye at the centre of a target board.
This is her pet event and she had achieved a perfect score of zero - measured electronically - by landing on the bull's eye during a competition in South Korea just five months ago.
The cross-country event is a mid-air race involving various checkpoints.
Goh hopes to raise the profile of paragliding and is aiming for a podium finish at this Asiad.
But she remains cautious in a sport where the slightest mistake can result in a huge losing margin. Sudden wind changes can also destabilise the glider.
She said: "You don't know when that will happen, so you must be able to react to it, but not overreact because when you overreact, you can also get a big score."
She can count on her adaptability and resilience.
Coughing non-stop in chilling weather and getting bitten by a hornet are just some of the things that she has gone through while competing.
Recalling the Bulgaria leg of the 2015 Paragliding Accuracy World Cup, she said: "It was 10 degrees... and because of the weather conditions, they changed the flight.
" We had to climb up the hill to fly down for six rounds.
When I started paragliding, I didn’t have any expectations. It was just another item on my bucket list.Singapore’s paragliding athlete Jessica Goh, who was the female champion at the 2015 Paragliding Accuracy World Cup
"On top of that, I was coughing non-stop. My friends could hear me before I reached (the take-off spot) because I couldn't stop coughing.
"But I was very lucky during this competition to be able to still do well. I got second for females.
"But not everything goes well every time, there was another competition where I had a hornet bite and an upset stomach, and I did very badly."
Besides overcoming obstacles in competitions, Goh has also had to clear other hurdles.
She estimates that she has spent between $150,000 and $200,000 of her savings. When she started out, she used outdated gliders.
Her family members were also not very supportive of her switch to the sport.
She said: "They were worried about my safety... but they have come to terms with it and I can see now that they are quite proud of my achievements."
Safety is constantly on Goh's mind, not least because she hopes to fly for a long time.
She said: "One of the things that I noted when I went for my first competition as a spectactor in Taiwan... was that the winner was a Japanese man who was over 70 years old.
"To be able to practise the sport safely will allow me to enjoy it for a long time to come."