I had been training for the SEA Games with gold in mind.

Day after day, I put in the hard work while fine-tuning my performance, making sacrifices as any other athlete would.

But when I left Hanoi without any medal, it was overwhelming to say the least.

I felt that I had let my coach, team and federation down.

I wanted to win for them, to show what my sport and my team was capable of. I also wanted to show what I was capable of doing.

Angelica (front row, 4th from right) with the Team Singapore canoeing athletes in Hanoi, Vietnam. Source: Singapore Canoe Federation

But everything fell short. Even with our best effort and performance, it was not enough.

It was easy to start blaming others or finding reasons why this happened. The less-than-ideal preparation leading up to the games, injured teammates and COVID-19…

All these things that were out of control came to mind and made me extremely frustrated and angry.

This turmoil and exasperation swirled within me. But as I began to reflect on them, I felt God guiding me to this question:

“What is really winning or losing?”

I used to think that victory equals value

As an athlete, it’s difficult not to get caught up with the principles of this world, such as medals, fame or success.

It’s easy to congratulate people when they win. But what about the times when they don’t?

In fact, most people go through wave after wave of defeat before they finally succeed.

But why do we never talk about the times we don’t do well?

Team Singapore (back row) competing at the Women’s Kayak Four (K4) event. Source: Singapore Canoe Federation

When I started competing, I really wanted to win. I wanted to prove that I was good, that I was of value.

These thoughts stemmed from a place of insecurity. As a result, I would always feel very nervous and have lots of anxiety before competitions.

Growing up as a second-generation Christian, I knew about God. But I wasn’t very rooted in my faith, nor did I practise it.

It was only after my friend Min brought me back to church, that I began to rediscover God through attending the Alpha course.

Gradually, my anxiety got better and better.

Angelica at a training session during her university days.

I also used to be extremely conscious about my coaches, and I wanted to impress them during trainings.

But over time, God taught me that my self-worth isn’t dictated by results or what my coaches think of me.

He helped me to manage my emotions better, made me more resilient towards setbacks and gave me confidence when I trained.

Throughout my life, God has indeed been faithful.

Freedom from undue anxiety

My team might not have won a medal, but I’m convinced that true victory is not about worldly achievements.

True victory is the freedom I have in God because my identity is no longer tied to my coach’s approval or my race results.

I can compete for Him without being insecure, self-centred and overly anxious. 

Ultimately, God has called me to pursue excellence where I am.

His call to excellence is not about the results, but about my attitude towards what He has tasked me to do.

I believe that my responsibility as an athlete is to serve my coach excellently by doing my best during training and serve my teammates by looking out for them post-training.

I have done my best, and though it’s hard to accept the results right now, may God help me to continue doing my best.

Growing comes from the journey

It’s good to testify of God’s grace, blessing and provision when we win.

But I think it’s also important to talk about the process, and give room for people to share about their feelings and even their questions for God too. 

If you know anyone who participated in SEA Games and didn’t win a medal, I encourage you to journey with them!

Angelica and her teammates during one of their races at the SEA Games. Source: Singapore National Olympic Council/Kelly Wong

Give them space to talk about their experience if they want to. Listen actively and with empathy, and be sensitive. 

I truly believe that it’s not about the outcome, but the journey.

After all, it’s through the journey that we develop character and draw closer to God.

So many things I’m thankful for

Despite all the setbacks I’ve faced so far, there are many things I want to thank God for.

Firstly, I thank Him for being forgiving and full of grace.

As the competition approached, I wasn’t able to attend church, do Bible study or pray frequently because of my training schedule.

But it’s truly by God’s grace alone that He has brought me thus far!

Secondly, I thank God for giving me a mentor from Athletes in Action and for a friend from cell group whom I met recently.

Despite my busy schedule, this friend went out of her way to have dinner with me and invited me to her house. She listened to me, and I was really touched by how she put in effort to understand me.

Thirdly, I’m also immensely grateful that God placed people in my life whom I can talk to and confide in, instead of having to bottle everything up inside.

While we were in Vietnam, my teammates lifted my spirits. The locals who knew Chinese also made the effort to talk with us! It was really a pleasant encounter.

Angelica (2nd from right) with a few of the Team Singapore athletes.

Last but not least, I want to thank God for my mother.

She prayed for me a lot, which helped to build up my faith and character over the years. She has played a big part in shaping who I am today.

Truly, God has blessed me more than I could imagine at the SEA Games and in my journey as an athlete.

I will continue competing with Him, through Him and for Him.

Angelica is currently in Poland for the ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup (26-29 May 2022).

We’re cheering you on, Angelica. Let your light shine!

  1. Where do you derive your self-worth from?
  2. How can you begin to build your identity in Christ?
  3. What does being excellent where God has placed you look like?