The many hats of a hero’s mother

Aug 15, 2016 06.30PM |

by Suhaile Md

ALL eyes are on Singapore hero Joseph Schooling. But what is the man without the mother who made him who he is? Joseph Schooling had a dream and through it all, May Schooling was there. Sometimes disciplinarian, sometimes tender and loving but always supporting.

May Schooling wears many hats, and here are some of them:


Unwavering faith

“In 2016, he [Joseph] will definitely be a finalist.”

In 2013, May, and her husband Colin Schooling, successfully negotiated with the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) for a three year deferment for Joseph from National Service so that he could have uninterrupted focus on his bid for Olympic glory. They had argued that any break in Joseph’s training would disrupt his performance. In an interview with Yahoo a month after negotiations ended successfully, she made her confidence in her son’s ability known. Truly, she has the unwavering faith of a mother!


Tiger mum

“If he says a foul word, I’ll slap him.”

Unwavering faith is backed by serious discipline. In the same interview, May Schooling said she was the stricter parent. Or in her own words, the “bad cop”. Imagine if even foul words merit a slap… forget about skipping class.


Wise mum

“They’ll forget you’re still a kid and will just pick on your faults.”

There is a reason for the strict discipline. National service deferment for sports was not the norm – it’s still not the norm. Although Singaporeans rallied around Joseph Schooling later, May was at first worried that the deferment “would have an adverse effect, with people getting jealous, etc.” she said in the Yahoo interview.

This was why she said “I told him, you’re a public figure, you better behave yourself”. She added that “people are ever-ready to criticise”. “They’ll forget you’re still a kid and will just pick on your faults.”

Looking ahead with caution and words of wisdom. Indeed, mummy knows best.


Protective mum

“I always remind Joseph that there will be girls who will try to lay claim on him and put him in a compromising position, so he has to be wary of that.”

Girls watch out, mummy May’s got her eagle eyes on you.

In an interview with The Strait’s Times (ST) days after the London 2012 Olympics, Colin Schooling said that Joseph is charming in the eyes of girls. This prompted May Schooling to add that she always told Joseph to be careful when it came to the fairer sex.

Not that he was banned from seeing anyone though. Said May: “He can bring girls over to the house, even in the States [where he was studying and training then], but they must behave themselves. I will not hesitate to scold them if they do not do so.”


Anxious mum

“I’ve been nervous all day. Joseph is so competitive, I know this means a lot to him.”

A mother’s eyes are eagle fierce but her heart rabbit soft?

Joseph Schooling won four medals – two golds, a silver and a bronze – and set four national records in his SEA games debut at Indonesia 2011. The success got him nominated for the Sportsman of The Year award at the Singapore Sports Awards 2012. Unfortunately, he could not attend the ceremony due to exams.

On the day of the ceremony (May 29), speaking to ST, May Schooling said she was nervous as the award meant a lot to Joseph.

Thankfully, he won the award that night. He was in fact the youngest Sportsman of The Year ever. But let’s appreciate the fact that May was nervous because it meant a lot to her son – not for the sake of the award itself.


A mother’s sacrifice

“We’re almost never a family. We are together only during Christmas and New Year’s Day and during his summer break, if he comes home.”

This insight into the Schooling family was revealed to The New Paper (TNP) a few days before the 2011 South East Asian Games (SEA Games), that started on November 11. Joseph Schooling was 16 years-old then. And it had already been two years since he relocated to the US for access to better training. May and Colin had to take turns accompanying Joseph there. This came at the cost of family time. On average, they spend about three weeks together as a family per year.

We dare say no mother would be happy to see her family separated halfway across the world.

May Schooling was initially against the move. “At first, I didn’t want him to go. But he told me ‘mum, if I am to get an Olympic gold medal, I have to go’,” she said in an ST interview at the 2014 Asian games. “Grudgingly, I let him go but it was a painful decision,” she said.

One can only imagine.


Tenacious mum

“It has been tough on all of us, but he wants it.”

For seven years, the Schooling parents shuttled between the US and Singapore. Besides not having her family together under the same roof for most of the year, May Schooling had some very practical challenges.

“I have got to take care of two households on both sides of the world,” she said in an interview with ST before the historic butterfly race last Saturday, August 13. At the age of 60, it has not been easy. She said: “It has been tough. Tough because we are not getting any younger.”

And it’s not just age catching up. In the years leading up to the Olympic gold, the Schoolings invested nearly US$1 million (S$1.35 million) out of their own pocket. She said in the same interview, “financially, it has also been a big juggle, using up all our reserves and having to budget like crazy”.


A proud Singapore mum

“Don’t force a kid to do what he doesn’t want to do.”

In SQ67 earlier today (August 15), May was asked if she had anything to say to parents of kids with big dreams. She replied that kids themselves have to decide what path to take. It cannot be forced and most of all, “make sure you love them and support them with what they want to do”, she said.

After Joseph Schooling made his mark in the history books last Saturday (August 13), May Schooling said to reporters: “I think it also shows that if we give Singaporeans the chance to pursue and train properly, we can reach the top of the world. He has proven that you can do it.”

Indeed, he has. But Mrs May Schooling, you have shown what a Singapore mother can do – she can make a hero. Singapore thanks you.


Additional reporting by Vir Chiniwala.

Featured image by Najeer Yusof.

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