Before the euphoria of making history in the pool on Saturday August 13, the Schoolings had to first endure seven years of toil on the road to the top of the Olympic podium.
It began with the difficult decision of sending their only child halfway across the world in 2009 to the United States, in pursuit of the training environment that could mould him into the world-beater he is today.
Joseph Schooling, just 14 then, was the one who pleaded to go. His parents were the ones hesitant to take the leap of faith.
Hours before Schooling’s historic swim yesterday, his mum May (pictured with her son above) recalled to The Sunday Times how the swimmer’s obsession with competing at the Olympics began after meeting his grand-uncle Lloyd Valberg, coincidentally Singapore’s first representative to the Games at the 1948 London edition.
To help Joseph fulfil his dream, they sent him to the Bolles School in Florida, but endured a trying start. The champion himself said yesterday of those early days: “I wasn’t the easiest guy to train. I didn’t want to be there.”
Husband and wife took turns shuttling between Singapore and Florida to take care of their young son, each staying months at a time.
It meant the family of three were separated more than they were together, spending an average of just three weeks together a year.
Said Mrs Schooling, her voice hoarse from days of cheering her son on from the stands: “I have got to take care of two households on both sides of the world.
“It has been tough. Tough because we are not getting any younger,” said the 60-year-old.
“As it is now, I am finding it more and more difficult to get over the jetlag of long haul. Age is catching up.”
She is a chartered accountant, while husband Colin, 68, is a businessman. He was not in Rio as he was not feeling well.
But after watching the live telecast from the home of Joseph’s good friend Teo Zhen Ren, a fellow national swimmer, Mr Schooling’s first words to his son were: “I love you. Son, you have done the nation very proud.”
Here are some photos of Joseph’s Olympic journey:
In this throwback photo from his Instagram account @josephschooling, Joseph shares a photo from his childhood days.
The former Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) student joins The Bolles School in the United States.
Still more than two months away from his 14th birthday, Schooling smashes Singapore’s oldest junior record – the under-14 200m butterfly – with a time of 2:10.56, almost three seconds faster than Tan V-Meng’s mark set in 1987. The youngster also eclipses his own 100m butterfly time by almost a second, clocking 59.4.
He said then: “I’m sacrificing my childhood – my time with friends, but I want to look back after I’ve reached my goal and be able to say that I made it.”
Joseph’s father Colin creates swimming aids for his son and delivers them to Florida. These include the drag chute, which is attached to the swimmer’s waist via a cord and builds strength and endurance through resistance. This is also Colin’s most elaborate masterpiece since he started customising swimming devices when Joseph was just a young child.
Joseph Schooling takes gold in all nine SEA Games events he entered for on home soil, setting new Games records in each of them, including the 50m freestyle (22.47) which was previously held by Ang Peng Siong (22.69) for 33 years.
See Joseph’s dad react to his son’s win:
A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times and The New Paper.