WHO ARE THEY? COLIN, 68, and MAY SCHOOLING, 61, parents of Singapore’s first Olympic champ, Joseph Schooling. Colin, a businessman who runs a trading company, and May, said company’s finance director, have forked out an estimated $1.35 million over the years to pay for Joseph’s training and studies in the US, including selling a property in Australia in 2005. What do they plan to do with Joseph’s reward (about $650,000 after deductions) for his Olympic feat? “Joseph told me to use the money to pay off our loans. He’s very sweet. But we haven’t decided what to do with the money yet. We haven’t received it anyway,” May quips.
8 DAYS: You’ve done what no other Singaporean parent has done before: raise an Olympic champ. What are you like as parents?
MAY SCHOOLING: I don’t pressure him about anything, not even his studies. All I tell him is: “You study for yourself, not for Mummy. Whether you want to be a rubbish collector or to sweep the streets, it’s up to you. Mummy will still support you.” He studies hard. [He majors in Economics in University of Texas] and his average GPA is 3.75 [out of 4]. I did nag at him when he was younger, like how any other mother would nag at her kid. There’s nothing special in the way we brought him up. He is very serious when it comes to training, though. He may complain that he is physically tired but he never tells me he wants to give up. He doesn’t like to lose, that’s why.
Sending a 13-year-old kid to the US to pursue a swimming dream like you did is a risk that most Singaporean parents might not dare take.
MAY: It took a lot of budgeting on our part, but it’s fine. Since it’s something he wants, we will support him. How’s that non-Singaporean (Laughs)? Every parent — Singaporean or not — will be supportive of their own kid. Yes, sports may be something that doesn’t earn money, but if he likes it, what can I do? When he was eight, he was good at swimming, bowling, golf and table tennis. He was actually deciding between swimming and professional golf, but he went with swimming. It’s not good for your back if you start playing golf from young anyway. [But the bottomline is] always let the kid choose what they want to do, rather than force them into it. If it’s something they love, they will excel in it.
It must’ve been more than his love for swimming that made you confident enough to invest so much in his passion.
MAY: Money is necessary, but it’s not the [be all and end all]. The first year he was [in The Bolles School in Florida] alone, he was only 13. He was struggling in boarding school and he was crying quite a bit. But when we asked him if he wanted to come back, he’d always say no. It was tough for us too, but we wouldn’t cry in front of him lah. We really missed him at the beginning, but we had to encourage him to keep going.
COLIN: We could tell he wanted it so badly. Ever since he was five, he’s been setting new records. Up until he was 13, we’d record all his swim times on paper, print them out, and keep them in a file [whips out a thick binder folder titled ‘Joseph Schooling’]. Look at all the markings in red — those are the times he set new records. [Ed: Almost every line is in red.] Even when we travelled overseas [on holiday], he’d wake me up at 4am every day to tell me he wants to train in the pool. Which kid does that? All that made me feel more confident in letting him pursue his passion.
It’s also more challenging to bring up your child when the family only gets to spend three weeks a year together. How do you stay in touch with Joseph when he’s overseas?
MAY: It’s always difficult to be apart. I fly over three times a year, and [Colin] flies there twice a year to take care of him. [When he’s in Texas] we talk to him every day via WhatsApp, Skype and phone calls. We go over during his two-week Christmas school break, but even then, he only has one day off from training. When I’m there, I prepare food for him so that he can focus solely on training. If I don’t do that, he’d end up eating burgers and pizzas, which aren’t good for him. Some people tell me that he is already 21 and that I don’t have to take care of him anymore. But honestly, I just take care of his domestic stuff so that it is easier for him to concentrate on his training.
What’s a typical breakfast like for Joseph?
MAY: When I’m there, I usually prepare a half-boiled egg, and cereal or bread for him. He always asks for his favourite Milo sandwich — spread butter on bread and put Milo powder on top of that. I’ve to carry the Milo all the way from Singapore, though, since they don’t sell it there. He loves pork floss on bread too.
COLIN: My son has loved vegetables since young. Give him a bowl of boiled broccoli and cauliflower and he’d eat them happily.
MAY: For his first solid meal as a baby, I fed him porridge with vegetables. I just added florets of broccoli or spinach leaves to the porridge. If you don’t feed your kid vegetables from young, it’ll be difficult to get them to eat them later on.
Training requires a lot of discipline. How did you instill that in him when he was growing up?
COLIN: Growing up, he was a really good boy, always smiling. [We’ve had to punish him] only once! He was playing with the power sockets in the house so I rolled up a newspaper and smacked him.
You’ve been quite thrifty in order to support Joseph’s swimming passion. Is he the same?
COLIN: He loves shoes and jackets. He dresses very well and he knows he looks good. But let’s say he already has 20 pairs of shoes, and he tells us he wants to buy another pair, we’d ask him: “Is it worth it? Do you need another pair? No, right?”
How do you ensure fame doesn’t get to his head?
COLIN: How did you find him after seeing him in Singapore over those four days? He’s still the same — still down-to-earth [after the Olympic victory].
MAY: We brought him up that way. We teach him good values, and bring him up to be a gentleman. I’m strict with him! If he says a foul word, I’ll keep him in check, but I won’t go to the extent of slapping him lah (laughs). Honestly, I wouldn’t say we brought our child up to be a champion. We just brought our child up to be happy.
What about all his newfound attention from women?
MAY: It’s good! He doesn’t ask me how to chase girls — all the girls chase him! I told him that at his age, he should have as many female friends as possible. If he gets cornered by one girl, he wouldn’t know if he is marrying the right one. True or not?
COLIN: He likes girls such as Jennifer Lopez or [Victoria’s Secret model] Adriana Lima. He likes girls with exotic looks and a sporty frame.
Does he have to marry a Chinese girl?
MAY: No, he has to choose his wife himself. It’s his life, I leave it up to him. Why should I choose for him? It’s good that he has so many female friends now. He just turned 21, don’t marry him off yet can? He’s too young to be talking about marriage. He’s still a baby to me.
What do you think of his current girlfriend?
MAY: He has no girlfriend. I was with him in the States in May, and he doesn’t stick to one girl. That girl [Joseph’s rumoured girlfriend Casey Shomaker], she’s fine. She’s pretty. But she’s just one of his female friends.