About two weeks ago; an article I wrote, “10 Years As A Swimmer Parent. Is it Worth It?” was published in Swimswam. In it, I talked about how my wife Jeannie, and I; experienced and watch our daughter, Laura Atkinson; grow from just learning how to swim when she was 6 years old, to swimming for the state of Selangor, Malaysia; to having moved abroad to continue with her tertiary education at Millikin University, Illinois, USA. Jeannie and I invested (I prefer this word over “spent” as it was an investment) much of our everyday life to be at the swimming pool for Laura’s training and competitive swimming championships. Now, that Laura is in the U.S.; Jeannie and I don’t go to the pool except to help out at the championships. Due to the unfortunate Covd-19 pandemic; the last championship we were involved in was in February 2020.
This article sparked an idea that Jeannie and I meet up with Laura’s long-time coach, Mark Chua. The last time we met him was over a year ago – yes, you’ve guessed it – at the last championship we helped out. Mark, himself a competitive championship swimmer and his sister, Olympian swimmer, Marilyn Chua; own and run Supersharkz Swimming Academy, which teaches a person to swim from “don’t know how” to “national” swimmer. Mark and Marilyn, together with Mr Ong Jin Kooi; are the head coaches for the Selangor state team. In Supersharkz; Mark, and his Assistant Coach, Mokhtar Hamidi; train and develop the “Orca” team.
As we walked up the stairs to Mark’s office; I turned to my right to look at the pool through the glass panel doors that divided the indoor swimming and diving pools from the rest of the aquatic stadium. These pools were reserved for the teams to train (The public used the outdoor pools). It was quiet at the pools as training starts at 5.00pm, with the elite team the first to get in the water.
Mark greeted us with his usual warm greetings. He looked the same as usual. His office walls were lined with children’s drawings by his two young children and by the many, many “thank you” and other greeting cards, handwritten notes and other art deco from his swimmers. He said he clears these walls every two years to make way for more new messages. He never throws the old notes and messages away, he still has every one of them from over the last 14 years because he treasures all his swimmers.
We started discussing about the Covid-19 pandemic and how it adversely affected swimming in Malaysia, with it being amongst the last sports to get back into training. Mark said that their business was affected badly with them having to let go many of their good coaches and staff. He hopes to get them all back to Supersharkz soonest possible.
He spent very little time talking about the business side of things. He pointed to the greeting and thank you notes, cards and drawings on his walls, ‘these are the reasons that have made it all the worthwhile”. He knows all the swimmers, both present and past; by name. He is tough on the deck, real tough. Many a time, he goes against the grain of the swimmers. Laura on many occasions after training, said she had a rough session. She took all this in her stride as she understood that this was shaping her to be a top athlete that she became.
Mark has an “open door” policy with all his swimmers, where they can see him for anything, including matters not related to the pool. And swimmers do. Jeannie reminded him that people often said he was running a “nursery”. He smiled. Mark plays mobile app games with the guys, talks about fashion, music like “k-pop” with the girls. All swimmers’ favorite topic – “food”. He is popular with swimmers from the junior levels of his club, too. As parents, we can see his genuine interest in all his swimmers. In fact, this interest of all their swimmers resonates with Marilyn and Mr Ong as well.
“I want all my swimmers to do their tertiary studies in the U.S. and train there, too. Train and compete where most of the world’s fastest swimmers train and become world champions. It is where you can swim and get an outstanding education at the same time.” This is offered as advice ever so often. And Mark has the widest smile, from ear to ear, when his swimmers do well, both in the water and in their lives such as studies and other activities away from the pool.
And the take away? His swimmers often touch base with him while they are abroad, at university. His swimmers often come back to visit him, Marilyn and Mr Ong. We look at the walls in his office….little appreciation notes, greetings, drawings…