By Jayne Chan (14S03D), Lu Xinyi (14S06B) and Vanathi Rajarajan (14S05B)

All of us have, at some point in our student lives, encountered an all-rounder. They are the students heavily involved in extra-curricular activities, but yet are able to score excellent grades, effectively dispelling the myth that being over-involved in non-academic activities mean not having enough time to focus on schoolwork.

Daphne Chia (14S03P) happens to be a part of that minority. Being a national gymnast, a member of the Biology Raffles Academy, and a double deans-lister (Chemistry and Mathematics, which happen to be her favourite subjects), most of us cannot help but sigh in awe, wondering if we would ever attain such a level of ‘having it all’.

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Daphne Chia one Friday afternoon to talk about her daily schedule, the sacrifices she has had to make, and most importantly, the support she receives from those around her.

Daphne at the 2013 National Championships Photo credit: Steven Goh
Daphne at the 2013 National Championships
Photo credit: Steven Goh

Daily Schedule

Here’s what a typical day in Daphne Chia’s life looks like.
6.00am : Rise and Shine
7:00am : Reach school to do some work before flag-raising
Recess/Lunch : Do some more schoolwork
1.30/3:00pm : Dismissal
4:00pm – 8:30pm : Gymnastics training
8:30pm – 10:00pm : Eat dinner in the car on the way home, wash up
10:00pm – 12/1am : Homework and Project Work
1:00am : Sleep

Academia

Daphne’s secret to getting her work done (and scoring ideal grades) is using small ‘pockets’ of time to consolidate her work or complete a tutorial. ‘Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day,’ she says. ‘It’s a matter of prioritising what you deem as important. For example, trying to squeeze in some work during breaks in school instead of going on, say, Facebook.’

Another piece of advice she gives is something all of us have heard countless times from teachers: having a sense of urgency. ‘Sometimes, I waste time if there’s no sense of urgency, especially during weekends. It’s important to create a sense of urgency on your own. For example, before exams, write a timetable and scare yourself when you see the large amount of things you have to study. It’s better than seeing so many things and not knowing where to start.’

When asked about study advice for individual subjects, she answers without hesitation with the wise-old ‘adage’ of ‘Math is practice’. Chemistry and Economics, in her opinion, also require diligent, timed practices. However, in the case of GP, she smiles sheepishly before saying, ‘It’s a long-term thing.’

When it comes to exam preparation, she advises, ‘Firstly, make sure you understand your concepts. Do the paper once or twice to get a feel of the time frame given. Oh, and make sure you listen for tips during class. Whenever I hear a teacher mention “always comes out in exams”, I’ll always say to myself, “this question is very important”.’ She also prescribes self-control and self-discipline when it comes to the lure of social media as a distraction while studying. Her advice— ‘Just don’t open it’.

Gymnastics

‘People always say I look like a gymnast.’ Well, that comes as no surprise. With her jet-black hair pulled into a neat ponytail, a chiselled V-shaped face completed by intent eyes, and a to-die-for willowy figure, you can barely guess wrong. In fact, Daphne has been repeatedly mistaken as her friends or seniors because of her signature gymnast hair.

All the same, appearances aside, gym hasn’t always been a walk in the park for Daphne. Speaking of when she first joined the national gymnastics team, Daphne explained how it took some time to adapt to the hectic schedules and hard-core training routines.

Daphne and her team at Gymfest 2012 Photo credit: Steven Goh
Daphne and her team at Gymfest 2012
Photo credit: Steven Goh

While the majority of her teammates joined in Primary 2–3, Daphne considered joining the national team very late, at the end of Primary 6, when she was talent-spotted by Singapore Gymnastics (SG) during a selection trial. Even though she had clear talent, coasting through the trials, it was a rather abrupt transition which took time and effort to adjust to, compared to her peers who had a three-year head start.

During her five years in SG, she has taken part in numerous competitions in rhythmic gymnastics. Her biggest event to date was the Asian Championships (AC) and World Championships (WC) held in June and August respectively this year. It was the first time that Singapore has sent a senior (16 and above) to compete in both competitions. Overall, she was 86th place in the world. ‘It was a good experience,’ she enthused, ‘we get to see more and how others are better, and strive to be as good as them.’

As Daphne shared with us, rhythmic gymnastics combines elements of ballet, gymnastics, dance, and apparatus manipulation. The sport involves the performance of five separate routines with the use of five apparatuses—ball, ribbon, hoop, clubs, rope—on a floor area, with a much greater emphasis on the aesthetic rather than the acrobatic.

Going into the interview, we wondered what might drive such a high-achiever to put oneself through a tiresome and disciplined regime—but as Daphne talked about the different facets of gym, we could see just why. Her voice had a clear interest and passion when it came to the sport she had devoted so much of her life to.

Daphne is aiming for the 2015 SEA Games, which will be hosted by Singapore. As any athlete would know, competing on one’s home ground makes winning ever more important, and Daphne is gearing up to do her best. ‘Rhythmic gym in Singapore is young but improving,’ she explained, ‘you need to be in the top 24 positions of the World Cup to qualify for the Olympics, but we are not up to that standard yet. ‘Maybe in 2020, my juniors can make it.’ She said with a hopeful smile.

Of course, nothing is without labour. As seen in her daunting daily schedule, Daphne trains for four and a half hours a day, six days a week. When asked whet her she feels hungry during training, she chuckled and asserted resolutely, ‘you won’t think of food when you’re training.’

As per the life of an avid sportswoman, physical limitations are also something Daphne has had to grapple with. She had sustained foot injuries twice, in Sec 3 and Sec 4. Fortunately, both were minor fractures and she had recovered quickly. ‘You cannot overdo training,’ she mused, ‘listen to your body and if you’re not feeling well, tell your coach.’

Social Life

To achieve so much, undoubtedly, some sacrifices have to be made. For Daphne, this sacrifice has been her social life, which, as she put wistfully, is ‘not really there’. Given her heavy commitments, she has had to give up class outings, meet-ups with friends and other social activities so many of us take for granted. Other than the occasional clique lunch after Saturday gymnastics trainings, she rarely spends time away from her desk on weekends, where she catches up with schoolwork. However, she does utilise social media such as Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram (when she isn’t studying).

Daphne (second row, third from right) with her class, 14S03P
Daphne (second row, third from right) with her class, 14S03P

When the topic of her class came up, Daphne’s eyes brightened. ‘The people in my class are smart, so we do have a certain degree of friendly competition. Even then, we all help one another out and I know they’ll be there to help me. I’m lucky in that sense.’

Whenever she is out of school for gymnastics, she is grateful that her friends would take notes for her and fill her in on everything she missed. ‘I wouldn’t know what I’d do without them,’ she said with a smile.

But even this overachiever has a playful side. Daphne flashed a cheeky grin as she mentioned she runs faster than the guys in her class (her timing for the 2.4km run is an impressive 9 minutes 40 seconds).

‘I try to make the best of my time with friends.’ Even if Daphne can’t spend time outside of school with her friends, she strives to make her time spent with them during school hours just as fulfilling.

Future career

One cannot work for something without thinking about what’s ahead in the future. Beyond the upcoming 2015 SEA Games though, Daphne admits that although she has a keen passion in the sport, it cannot be denied that rhythmic gymnastics’ sporting lifestyle isn’t long, and she would therefore probably not continue gym in university as there would be many other commitments at the university stage. She hopes to combine her passion for academics and sports by one day becoming a sports doctor.

When asked if she would look back one day and regret anything, she said, ‘Hopefully, I’ll be satisfied with what I’ve achieved. There’s no point in regretting something. If I worked hard, in the end, it’ll all be worth it. It’s important to make use of any opportunity presented to you, but don’t regret what you cannot change anymore.

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