BY YEO JIE MING
For me, the period after SPM was one of utter confusion. I loved learning and discovering, but I hated rote learning. Thus, I was in a state of ecstasy the moment I handed in my exam papers, and I partied non-stop for the first two weeks post-SPM. Come December, however, most of my friends were already busy packing for college. By December’s end, all that was left of them were their silhouettes as they slowly dispersed to different destinations in pursuit of their ambitions.
It was a wake-up call for me; this was no time for Bacardis and uncoordinated disco jiggles! I needed to get back on the route towards medical school. After considering several pre-university options, I decided to sign up for the 18-month A-levels programme at Kolej Yayasan UEM.
When the SPM results were released in March, I did well enough to consider applying for scholarships and new doors began opening up for me. Finally, I accepted a scholarship to do my A-levels at Abbey College, Cambridge. The programme would only commence in September, so I had six months to kill. Reminiscing upon how much I enjoyed being a member of the lifesaving society in KYUEM spurred me to contact the Life Saving Society Malaysia (LSSM) and enquire about signing up for a professional lifesaving course.
After attending a Life Saving Sport Workshop at INTI College organised by the INTI Life Saving and Swimming Club, I decided that it would be fun to spend my remaining time improving my swimming skills and learning about tows and throws. Despite the high-pitched objections from my mum who insisted that swimming full-time for six months would turn me into a female Hulk, I signed up for a Life Saving Training course in Penang.
It was a rather unconventional thing to do, I admit. My decision was met with raised eyebrows and stifled sniggers when I told several acquaintances about it – most of them were in the midst of more ‘useful’ occupations, such as attending a pre-university course or taking a gap year to deworm orphans. But I remained stout in my decision: for six months, I woke up at the crack of dawn every single day, went to the swimming pool at the Bukit Mertajam Country Club, and subjected myself to four continuous hours of elective torture from my instructor.
Completing the lifesaving course was not an easy feat. Although I was somewhat athletic in my school days, I was never a keen swimmer, being more of a runner and a bowler. Apart from the cardiovascular stress and muscular aches caused by the rigorous training sessions, I had to learn about various lifesaving techniques including towing, throwing a line, and emergency rescue techniques such as CPR and the Heimlich manoeuvre. Synchronising swimming and saving someone’s life can be quite challenging, especially for someone like me whose motor coordination leaves much to be desired.
Oh, and it certainly did not help that I was the only Pamela Anderson (minus the chest) amongst a herd of David Hasselhoffs in this version of Baywatch. I had to endure sexist remarks and an extremely deflated ego, thanks to the boys who out swam me nine out of ten times due to their testosterone surges, abundant mitochondria advantage, and sturdy physiques.
The towing training sessions could not be described as female-friendly as well. Being the lightest trainee, I was used as the ‘victim’ for both old and new trainees. It involved being strapped beneath the rock-hard upper arms of some very sweaty men and dragged across a distance of at least 50 metres in the swimming pool countless times a day, all the time spluttering and gasping for air as an inevitable consequence of their inept lifesaving skills. Not my idea of fun.
Before the final assessment that would enable me to qualify as a trained lifeguard, I had to watch the pool for three hours per day, which was an experience in itself. Firstly, I never fully knew how boring it is to stare at a water-filled tank for several hours straight. Secondly, I learnt that breathholding competitions are a fad amongst kids these days.
Once, when this kid disappeared underwater for more than 3 minutes, I conducted the whole “Call out to victim, call for assistance, jump into pool” operation only to discover that a pointless, neuron-destroying contest was underway, which left everyone – except me, of course – in stitches of laughter.
Despite all my trials and tribulations, those six months were one of the most enjoyable periods of my life. I made new friends, gained unforgettable experiences, and the novelty of devoting a significant proportion of my time to something outside of academia was refreshing. In fact, the sense of accomplishment I felt when I received the Bronze Medallion and certificate of accomplishment from the International Life Saving Federation was comparable to that which I experienced upon receiving my string of As in SPM!
Most importantly, it taught me many important lessons in life: those of teamwork, of perseverance, and of humility – even if it did give me rather hypertrophied deltoids and a slightly smug “I told you so!” from the woman who bore me.
Yeo Jie Ming is currently studying medicine at Imperial College London. When she is not buried underneath a heap of medical textbooks, she enjoys swimming, running and hiking. She lives by the motto ‘Life is either a great adventure or nothing’.
Note: The above entry was written in 2010 for What’s After SPM?, published in 2011. This non-for-profit book project is a collaboration between Leaderonomics and a team of young Malaysians. Click here for details on the project and authors.
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