The narration of Serena Yang Chen Yin’s triathlon career might not be boasting too many chapters just yet, but that doesn’t mean there are not too many colors there on the palette. From having serious injury to defying the odds while paving the way to the SEA Games meant that the marauding Sarawakian has tasted it all. On one chilly afternoon, we decided to sit down and listen to her story of the past, glory of the present and hope for the future.
Serena came to meet us with her coach (and husband) Aldrian Yeo – the man responsible to bring her to the level she’s at now and the level she desired to beat in the future. The image of women’s swimming world champion Katinka Hosszú who is also coached by her husband Shane Tusup quickly popped up in our head when seeing the pair. The success that they’ve brought to the table so far strikes a very uncanny resemblance to the Hungarian duo.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
The 2017 Port Dickson International Triathlon winner started off as a promising swimming starlet in her home city of Bintulu. The stars in Serena shone brightly during the early swimming days as her natural athleticism has steered her to champion few races she entered. Turning 13, she had already competed for the country in the regional races.
I didn’t know whether I had shown enough brilliance to make swimming as my long term career but I was certainly good enough to break into the state team at such a young age. I remember gliding past other swimmers in the pecking order and subsequently selected to swim for Sarawak at SUKMA twice. That was a great experience of me contesting with all the older, more experienced swimmers from all across the country.
The SUKMA involvement – 2006 edition in Kedah particularly – has provided Serena with some golden knowledge about the sport. There, she knows what she was lacking from; the sacrifices she needed to make in order to make it to the very top and also the harsh fact that talent alone will not be taking her far without the much-needed hard work.
After the swimming trophy-laden years in school, Serena carried on to further her tertiary studies in the neighboring city of Miri, Sarawak. “I did accounting in a twinning program between a local college in Miri with Curtin University in Perth, Australia. I settled down well in Australia during that one full year in terms of sport and socializing. But then again, I have to admit that I was struggling to maintain my fitness. It was hard for me to carry on training with same intensity. There, I didn’t have a coach to push me to the limit or even friends that share the same sporting interest.
Then when I came back here, I found myself literally out of shape. I felt sluggish and was a bit overweight too due to the poor diet and lack of training during my stint in the university. I tried to face the reality at that time and I knew only a few tweaks in my lifestyle would get myself back to full fitness. So I decided to start running – the sport that wasn’t on my preference list during school days.
starting all over again
It was around that time that she met some friends sharing the same vision and goals in running. This group of people also started out as a bunch of runners before moving on to other disciplines for the sake of challenging themselves and tasting the thrills that come with it. Though she was hesitant at first, Serena thought entering team relay triathlon events could be a truly terrific idea.
I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest. I haven’t been swimming intensively for quite a while so I could have expected myself to lose a little bit of form. We practiced quite a lot and they sort of taught me how to run and cycle. At that time, I have close to zero knowledge in those two disciplines.
“After a few cycling sessions, the unexpected thing happened. I was involved in a nasty accident and as a result, I broke my wrist and a few fingers. I was devastated as the race day was edging closer. It took me six full weeks to recover and back to training. But due to my own carelessness, I was caught in another accident and this time, I fell into a drain at our practice track. If there were a crown for the unluckiest lady in the country at that time, I should have been the queen,” she laughed.
Her friends a.k.a her teammate decided to not to ask her to cycle anymore. But she was lucky to have already met Aldrian at that time. They met during the Miri International Triathlon event. From there the pair grew a great relationship and Serena benefitted from the advice he gave to her especially the ones involving running and cycling.
Buoyed by the confidence from the uplifting training sessions, Serena made a bold move for her triathlon journey by signing up for the IRONMAN. That is quite a heavy statement considering the fact that she’s still not too serious about jumping fully into the sports. She still had a day job she needed to dedicate herself on at that time and still treating the sport much more as a hobby than a career.
“But I must have been addicted to the sports, that’s what I thought at that time. Together with Aldrian, we traveled to places as near as Kuching to cities as far as Thailand to run a few triathlons. Then after mulling over it for a while, I decided to ditch the job and started to help my parents back home in Bintulu with their business. Half a year later, I decided to move to Kuala Lumpur. Not that I had any plans at that time but coming here really did link me up with few exciting opportunities.”
She was then introduced to one of Aldrian’s coach, Steve Lumley who saw the talent in her. “Steve and I, we agreed that she would be very good in short distance races. He’s a very experienced coach and I knew him from my stint with TIME team so he has this sharp instinct in detecting promising talents. Steve then agreed to cater a program to push her to the limit and see whether she could be qualified for bigger gigs like the SEA Games. For an athlete – especially ones that still developing – to have a reputable coach believing in them could do them wonders in psychological perspective. I thought that was the case with her at that time. She found great confidence in herself and that was apparent during training sessions,” Aldrian added.
From there, she didn’t turn back. She told the parents her intention of being a full-time athlete but that wasn’t well-received by them. “They just wanted the best for me I guess,” she said. “They were worried I couldn’t survive in this arena. Plus, I got quite a good education complete with working experiences so it came to them as a surprise.”
the journey beyond herself
Eventually, she regained her focus only on the training ground. She felt like there’s a justification yet to be made and the only way for it to be completed is by getting to the best level she could achieve. That way, she could have justified her decision to her parents and herself for making the decision.
“I only have one year before the SEA Games. I really wanted to go there and after a few months of training, I was hit with a knee injury. The doctor spotted a very rare pattern with my meniscus and if I wanted to fully recover before the SEA Games qualification, I needed a surgery.”
The nightmare of not qualifying is starting to pollute her imagination and the next thing she knew, she was going into the surgery room after receiving the green light from her doctor and coaches.
“We didn’t have time to even think of the dilemma whether I could manage to recover on time. It was at the end of 2016 and the selection was scheduled on March the following year. Should I go for the surgery or should I wait? After the decision was made, I was truly blessed to have a very successful knee operation and managed to recover in time before the qualifying race.”
She ended up in the respectable fourth place. Only top two from the race would go on to represent the country but that doesn’t mean she would let her frustration get the better of her.
From that point, I realized that I’m just unlucky to be disturbed with serious injury just before the qualifying. But I realized that I am in a better place now, much fitter with a little bit of experience. I train very well nowadays and the program Aldrian prepared for myself is looking really good. I am ready to go again.
Now together with Aldrian, Serena is plotting to make 2018 the best sporting calendar year for her. Aiming for both Commonwealth Games and Asian Games this year, fingers crossed that the preparation will go undisturbed so she would get what she deserved; some luck to unleash her best performance.