I know that the chances of you reading this is close to zero, what with the international media casting its astonished eye on you, now that you have have slain a giant. And let’s not forget the mountains of accolades that are being heaped upon you by our local media. But I still want to say a huge thank you to you, for helping to transform what had seemed so laughably impossible into reality.
This morning, at 9am, I was in bed nursing a head cold when my four-year-old burst into the room. “Wake up!” he said. “Joseph Schooling is going to compete!” And so I dragged myself out of bed and sat my aching head down in front of the telly with Aidan and Zac, my two-year-old.
“I want to sing the Majulah Singapura,” Aidan whined. “Where is the Majulah Singapura?”
The competitors lined up at the starting blocks, we held our breaths and shushed our noisy children. We wanted to indulge in the moment, to see if you could land the gold that we have talked of for so long and yet unable to achieve so far. Everyone leapt off the blocks and we watched as you emerged from the water, masterful strokes propelling you forward strongly. And then you turned and I started cussing out of fear that one of them Amazons would overtake you.
And then it was over. 50.39 seconds. You did it. It was so fast and yet for all of us – whether we were sitting in the kopitiam or at home with unwashed faces – it felt like an age.
You did it. Who could have foretold this moment?
We ate our breakfast and then it was time for the awards ceremony. You know, my kids love, LOVE singing the national anthem. They grabbed a flag each, plonked their bums on the coffee table and watched as you waited to go up the podium. Next to you were the three silver medalists, all great names and Goliaths to your David, especially that one named Phelps. You looked so small next to them, and so lonely. I guess it is a bittersweet feeling, to be on top and yet be so alone.
Your name was called, you stepped up and this was it, the moment all of us have been waiting for: the national anthem was played.
You did it.
My boys waved their flags madly and sang along quietly, their eyes glued to the ascent of our flag. And when it was over, they turned to look at us and grinned. And that was when I thanked you.
Not just because you put our little red dot on the international map with your achievements. Not just because you worked so hard to get that gold.
But mostly, it was because now my children have someone to look up to. Someone to prove that it is possible to achieve the impossible, that following a dream, a passion can pay off as long as they put in the effort.
They may not be national swimmers – I mean, let’s just focus on getting Aidan to put his face into the water mmmkay – but who knows what is in store for them in the future. Maybe they will become artists. Or musicians. Or writers. Or footballers. Maybe they will want to carve their own paths, away from the straight and narrow route that our education system will push them towards. Maybe they don’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer. Maybe they would want to be themselves, aspiring towards a goal that our society may scoff at.
Before you won this morning, we did not have that role model. There was no trailblazer. And now that you have gone and landed this amazing feat at our feet, our children can have somebody to look up to.
So really, you did not just win an Olympic gold, you have gone and rewritten the rules of the game for Singapore.
Tonight, before he drifted off into dreamland, Aidan whispered to me, “Mummy, can you buy me a cap?”
“Yes, for swimming,” he replied, nodding in the dark. “Like the Olympic swimmers. Like Joseph Schooling.”
And for that, I, as a mother, thank you.