Just when you think you're tough enough


Finishing Last Encouraged Alyce Ooi To Become A Swimming Coach

Some people only learn swimming as adults, and Alyce Ooi Lee Tze is no different. Her pursuit into triathlon drove her to learn swimming on her own but later learnt that mishaps can happen if one is not equipped with the right skills.

The Port Dickson International Triathlon in 2015 was my first event and I was one of the few that came out from the swimming leg in the sea, last!

At the beginning, 35-year old Alyce aimed just to improve her swim but also started doing more research and studied its fundamentals. The Kluang-born has now found her passion in swimming since, and progressed alongside coach Shauqie, assisting him in swim clinics on weekends. Now a full-time swimming coach, Alyce is based in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

ToughAsia swam at great lengths to find out how Alyce makes different strokes work for different folks in swimming and triathlon.

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ToughASIA: How, when and why did you get involved in triathlon?

Alyce: Prior to becoming a swim coach, I was a freelance animator cum video editor and my world was just a 16-inch screen. I was connected to the virtual world but disconnected with the people out there. The deskbound life was driving me crazy and so I decided to take up sports.

Running came first to mind because it’s the easiest to start. All you need is a pair of running shoes! I then dabbled in martial arts (Brazilian jiu-jitsu).

Finally, I gave triathlon a try. Triathlon requires one to master all three disciplines and this was something new and challenging for me. Being good at one is hard enough, what more three!

ToughASIA: What inspired you to become a swim coach?

Alyce: My triathlon journey was not a successful one to begin with. The Port Dickson International Triathlon in 2015 was my first event and I was one of the few that came out from the water, last! I felt silly having thought of going through an event like that without proper training.

I thought that my self-taught swimming would be good enough. I was just lucky that day to have swum in a calm sea. The sea conditions can be brutal and by not being properly equipped with the proper swimming skills, some mishaps can happen.

That event led me to seek professional training with coach Shauqie and that was the beginning of how I reached my new heights. The lessons gave me a new perspective and broadened my view about the importance of the right training. It gave me the confidence to push myself with every stroke. I became stronger day by day.

I’m sure there are many adults who face the same problem as me, that is learning to swim as an adult while most swim approaches solely cater to children.

As an adult who has only taken professional swimming lessons in my twenties, I’m keen to share some of my experiences to adults who are afraid to swim but would like to give it a try and to aspiring triathletes or swimmers who want to compete in their first event. Being a coach helps me to do just that!

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ToughASIA: A lot of adults learn to swim only when they want to pursue triathlon. What is your advice for adults who want to learn how to swim to get them started?

Alyce: My experience has taught me the hard way that you need to be completely prepared in all three areas. For cycling and running, the more mileage you put in, the better you get, but it’s different with swimming if you don’t know the right techniques.

I would say first, invest in good swim coaching because that will change your whole learning journey and impression of swimming. With the right technique, everyone can swim effortlessly.

People struggle in freestyle because they have built improper technique over the years. You need to find the right technique that suits your physique. There is a whole science behind this but that is for another conversation. Be patient to get the feel for the water (the ability to gain traction in water and translate it into forward movement). It took me almost one year to achieve this and once you get it, you’ll never forget!

After learning the fundamentals, do find a swim squad to practice with. Swimming in a squad simulates swimming closely with others at an event. It can also motivate you to be stronger like your swim mates when you train together.

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ToughASIA: Most triathletes fear swimming in the open water. How do you help them overcome this fear? Can you share any tips or advice?

Alyce: Many experience peer-pressure to take part in triathlons even before being completely prepared. To be a good swimmer and learn about the safety behind open water swims, you need to first swim well in the pool!

You will eventually gain confidence once you train and clock in your mileage by doing laps. In most cases, it is a lack of practice and preparation that leads to fear in the open water. If these skills are not practised, one will panic and this is when accidents happen.

  • Practise in the pool to handle emergencies like leg cramps, foggy goggles and be able to call for help (backfloat).
  • Practise water treading.
  • Learn open water skills such as sighting (navigation skills), drafting, buoy turning, swimming in a group.

ToughASIA: Did the lockdown imposed during the MCO disrupt your profession as a swim coach?

Alyce: It was quite tough for me when the government imposed a necessary lockdown March last year. All our plans had to come to a halt. I felt lost and frustrated at the beginning and feared my swimmers would lose their water fitness after so much training time has been put in.

To overcome this, I started doing dry land training sessions with the squad online so they can continue to stay active and give them a better transition back into the water when we can all swim again.

On the brighter side, I had more time to work on the other two disciplines (cycling and running) where I had completely neglected. Without having to rush, I started to enjoy cycling around the neighbourhood and exploring places I never thought would be exciting. I realised that there is so much good food around too! Who would have thought cycling and running can be so enjoyable.

So, during these trying times, I’ve actually managed to change my routine to a triathlete’s lifestyle. I am able to train all three disciplines as a single sport. I become better at planning and arranging my time for all three.

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Alyce provides triathletes with the right skills and confidence in the open water

ToughASIA: How often do you train in swim, bike and run?

Alyce: I swim everyday if possible – either for recovery or a hard set. For recovery, I focus mostly on drills and easy swim. For the hard set, I go for a long distance or threshold set.

My favourite threshold set is also a favourite set of the Brownlee Brothers, the Olympic champions: repeated 100m freestyle at threshold speed, with 10-15sec rest time between every 100m.

I train on biking and running on alternate days. My favourite routes for both disciplines are Bukit Persekutuan, Bukit Damansara and the food hunting routes!

“The best performers are not consistently great, but they are great at being consistent”. So I try my best to be consistent in these three disciplines.

ToughASIA: What is your proudest achievement or moment as a swim coach for triathletes?

Alyce: Witnessing my swimmers all prepared and finishing strong in their first open water events and triathlons makes me proud. I am proudest when I see some of my swimmers who could not complete a 25-metre freestyle at the beginning but later on completed a 1.9 or even a 3.8 kilometre swim in the open sea.

I am also proud of myself in transition from a swim coach to a triathlon coach and was selected by the Malaysia Triathlon Association (MTA) to fly to Korea for the International Triathlon Union (ITU) coaching programme.

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ToughASIA:What is your proudest achievement or moment in triathlon?

Alyce: As a triathlete, I was happy to conquer my fear and improved myself in the Port Dickson International Triathlon in 2020. Compared to 2015 when it was my first triathlon and I struggled through, five years later I placed Top 5 in my age group!

ToughASIA:What keeps you going into 2021 and beyond as a triathlete?

Alyce: Surrounding myself with people who support and motivate me keeps me going. Getting my sister to join me in triathlon was quite an achievement as well as having my family stay active and take interest in the sport that I enjoy .

I would also like to focus on what I ‘can’ instead of what I ‘cannot’. I need to learn how to accept the present and keep moving forward. Cycling and running was not enjoyable for me previously and I had some bad experiences in cycling. Somehow, I tried to put on my cleat shoes again after a while and the fall does not scare me anymore. So moving forward, I will “try and fail but never fail to try.”

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Personally, my goal as a triathlete is to be able to beat my own record every year. I would like to improve myself in every way and to finish strong in an IRONMAN 70.3 which is in my bucket list. If I can finish within the top 3 Malaysian female triathletes, it would be a dream come true.

Professionally, I am working towards making swimming as a squad for adults, a lifestyle in Malaysia and getting more adults to swim. It is never too late!

If you would like some help with your swim or knows someone who does, Alyce might be the right coach to help you through the waves. For more info, visit the My Swim Coaching website.