Shining in and beyond the arena

As she lines up for a shot, shooter Quek Siying becomes as still as a statue. The slightest movement can mean the difference between hitting a bullseye and missing by a mile.

Meanwhile, world rugby referee Putra Mohammad Danish Bin Mohd Rafee demonstrates tireless energy on the field as he keeps track of the continuously evolving game.

While the two sports are as different as chalk and cheese, their practitioners share one thing in common: strong support from the University that allows them to juggle their studies and sporting dreams, achieving excellence in both.

Hitting her mark

For Chemistry graduate Siying from the NUS Faculty of Science, the key to a good shot has always been about balance. Whether it is muscle coordination, mental concentration or keeping her emotions in check, steadying herself is crucial to hitting the target.

This balance helped her at the prestigious World University Games (WUG) in 2019, one of the six times she represented NUS. She describes the experience as her most memorable, where she learnt to look beyond the score and see each competition as a learning experience instead.

“The WUG helped me change my mindset towards training because I got injured and could not hold my gun properly to shoot. But I realised that pulling through to the finish is an achievement in itself,” shared Siying.

Learning to strike a fine balance between sports and studies has also paid off for her. A recipient of both the NUS Merit Scholarship and the Alice & Peter Tan Scholarship, Siying has always been a model student. She was part of the NUS University Scholars Programme too.

“After knowing what I want out of my university life, it’s much easier to optimise the time I spend on training and academics,” said the fresh graduate who minored in Computer Science and joined e-commerce platform Shopee as a systems quality engineer this year.

“It’s not juggling or balancing, if it’s optimising”, she added, sharing a motto she has lived by through her schooling years.

Besides hard work, student athletes also require many resources to keep them in good form. For Siying, the provision of training equipment, reimbursement for venue rental and coach fees, as well as invaluable support of the NUS Shooting team, collectively enabled her to get back on her feet quickly whenever she faced setbacks.

Performing under pressure

For NUS Computer Engineering graduate Putra, playing rugby alone was not enough. He also learnt to officiate the game after a teammate invited him to attend a referee course in 2014.

“As a referee, the best part is the friends you make along the way,” said Putra, who graduated in May this year. “I’ve had good relationships with plenty of referees representing many different countries. We share strong bonds as we go through the ups and downs together.”

He is also grateful for the support from his professors, who exercised flexibility when his refereeing duties clashed with his class schedules. Some were also flexible with his work submissions or made special arrangements for his exams when he had to officiate at overseas games.

Putra’s commitment to his sport meant he had to squeeze in time for exam revision while in transit or on the plane during the pre-pandemic days.

But he learnt to put his studies first, turning down any offers that interfered with curriculum time. “More opportunities will come,” he told himself. “[So I should either] take all the opportunities that come and do them with 100 per cent effort or don’t do them at all.”

Like Siying, he has a solid academic record. He was awarded the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore mid-term scholarship in 2019 and started working with the public agency in May this year.

He believes his experience as a professional referee will serve him well wherever he goes, as it has taught him to perform under pressure and communicate with different groups of people.

 “Travelling the world [as a referee] really allowed me to grow my social and professional skills,” he said. “It taught me how to speak with athletes, managers, coaches, fans, and perform under pressure”.

Siying and Putra are proof that student athletes can excel both in and out of the classroom with hard work, self-discipline and a strong support network.