The Olympic Spirit: When Pain is Only Temporary
In her 15 years of being an athlete, national gymnast Lim Heem Wei has had to made many sacrifices, including not having an active social life. The captain of the Singapore women's gymnastics team said: "There are some sacrifices I have had to make since I was a kid. But I don't regret it since I can always catch up with my friends and family. But I am only young once. I can't be doing gymnastics when I am in my 30s or 40s." PHOTO: CALVIN YANG
She has injured almost every joint in her body, yet for Lim Heem Wei, sustaining sprained ankles, bruised elbows and dislocated shoulders have become a familiar part of being a national gymnast.
"Injuries are common due to the many high-risk maneuvers of the sport. When you put in long hours in training, it is very difficult to avoid them," she added. The 23-year-old trains four to five hours per day, for six days a week.
Since taking up the sport 15 years ago, Heem Wei has suffered countless sprains and strains to her neck, shoulders, elbows, fingers, lower back, knees, ankles and feet.
Some of her injuries were so serious that she had to undergo surgery just so that she would not lose the ability to walk properly. In November 2008, Heem Wei sustained a left foot fracture while competing at the Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Doha, leaving her to rely on crutches in the weeks that followed. In August 2009, after enduring eight months of nagging pain, she received a bone graft surgery to treat the stress fracture.
"I thought that it would get better if I reduced the impact on the legs during training but the pain just wouldn't go away.
"It hurt everyday, even walking was not easy. I sought a few opinions and surgery seemed like the best option," she said.
While most athletes take months to recover from their injuries, the captain of the Singapore women's gymnastics team was back in training within weeks. She continued working on her upper body strength while spending seven weeks in an orthopedic foot cast.
"It is always a challenge coming back after getting an injury. Sometimes, when you are putting in so many hours training, you start to question why you are doing this," she added.
When asked whether she ever thought of quitting the sport due to these setbacks, she said: "The thought of quitting is always there. But if I just quit, what would that make me?
"At the end of the day, it is not just about me. My parents and coaches have been putting in so much effort and it is not fair for them if I were to take the easy way out."
Lim Heem Wei, a first-year Business Administration undergraduate at the National University of Singapore, finds it a challenge balancing sports and academics. Fortunately, the university works closely with her to schedule a curriculum which allows her to train and compete without missing out on her studies. PHOTO: CALVIN YANG
Injuries are so common in the sport that during competitions, gymnasts often have to perform their routines while enduring the pain. Heem Wei is no exception.
Two years ago, she sprained her right ankle days before she was due to compete at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
"It was one of the worse sprains I've ever had. I remembered that it was not a very nice feeling competing with the swollen ankle.
"Throughout the competition, I kept reminding myself to do my best and to commit as little errors as possible. I was just hoping to pull it off," she continued.