PASSION: Rings of Fire
National gymnast and boy-next-door Ryan Lee overcomes adversity with his passion for gymnastics
WORDS MARIELLE DESCALSOTA
PHOTOGRAPHY ESTELLE QUECK
10.30 a.m., 22 August, Kuala Lumpur.
The MATRADE Exhibition and Convention Centre was illuminated with bright lights and vibrant energy. All eyes were on the far end of the gymnasium.
The South-east Asian (SEA) Games were ready to feast on the rings, jewel of the physics-defying sport of gymnastics. The event is specially for male gymnasts, in which they grip two rings to maneuver their body in the air.
A well-built teenager stood at the foot of the apparatus, strapping ring grips around his wrists. Ryan Lee was Singapore’s sole representative in the rings finals at the Games, aged only 17.
The Catholic Junior College student’s journey to the biggest stage in the region wasn’t easy. Being in a sport where pain is a rite of passage, his team took a major blow when men’s artistic gymnastics (MAG) captain Sean Yeo suffered a foot injury.
Sean’s injury on the high bar ended Singapore’s MAG team’s hopes of medalling for the team event. He was injured during warm up right before the actual competition.
“Our team’s experience was unlike other countries’ teams because we had an injury during the competition,” Ryan told CATCH! as he recalled his captain’s injury.
“It was sad to not see everyone finish the competition together because no matter how well or badly we did we wanted to finish as a team.
He was plagued with the idea of giving up, but he was no stranger to injuries, nor was he unfamiliar with the pain that came with it. The SEA Games was his first senior competition, but overcoming adversities was something that gymnastics had taught him from young.
“I’ve had injuries to my knees, elbows, shoulders, wrists, ankles, feet… Basically my whole body,” Ryan said, laughing.
Ryan’s passion for gymnastics began as a young boy at a recreational class. His eyes gleamed with interest when he saw a photograph of gymnasts doing handstands.
His first taste of competing came unexpectedly at the tender age of eight, when his childhood gym, Prime, formed a boys’ competitive team.
His family had moved from Holland Village to Toa Payoh, so it was difficult to commit to four training sessions a week. His grandparents were also wary of the physical stress gymnastics would bring to the body of a young boy.
But, despite the challenges, Ryan insisted.
His first step into the world of competitive gymnastics shaped the rest of his life.
“Gym has made me the person I am today and I’m really thankful for that.”
Being a student-athlete at a national level is a risk in itself, but Ryan felt no fear. He decided to retain a year in junior college to prepare for competitions.
The gamble paid off as he won two gold medals at this year’s ASEAN Schools Games (ASG) in the rings and all-around team. However, making the SEA Games contingent was an unforeseen blessing.
“Two years ago when I was 16, if you asked me if I was going to compete in the SEA Games I would have told you I’m not sure or no,” he admitted.
“Gym is something that makes me keep surprising myself (with how far I could go) and pushes me to do my best. I think it’s a growing process.”
A defining moment in Ryan’s journey was on the rings in last year’s ASG in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He was the last competitor to showcase his skills, and the pressure was sky high.
Little did he know it was a stepping stone for bigger things to manifest.
“When they (other athletes) were competing I was pacing around non-stop because I couldn’t calm myself down. I’d seen everybody compete before it was my turn,” he said.
“When I was about to do my final skill, I thought, “Oh no, what if I mess up now.”. But I managed to get a bronze medal and was delighted.
There are many things the spectator does not see behind the sensational stunts in the gymnasium. But, passion propels people past their limits, and gymnasts are living proof of that.
Gymnastics opened a world of perseverance and triumph for Ryan. It was a different route from many, but definitely worth it.
“If someone asks me what’s different about me I’ll say I’m a gymnast. It’s something that’s rare and I’m proud of it,” he revealed with a wide smile.
And to Ryan, nothing’s sweeter than lighting up the gymnasium finessing the rings.