In its 35 year history, ISB has had its share of successful alumni. Many go on to become successful in business, engineering, and finance. But now, ISB can claim a successful graduate in Olympic competition as well.
Camille Cheng, a member of ISB’s class of 2011 and UC Berkeley graduate, recently came back from Rio after competing in the 200m Freestyle event representing Hong Kong. Editors Max Barte and Daniel Fu had the privilege to interview Ms. Cheng, who shared her experiences at ISB and how they led her to the most prestigious athletic competition in the world.
Q: Describe your time at ISB. Do you remember any teachers?
Camille: I was at ISB from 2002 till graduation in 2011 and really enjoyed my years there. I love learning and the teachers and my classmates made my time there very memorable. What I appreciated about ISB is that, although academics were always a priority, teachers, classmates and other staff always encouraged and supported us to pursue and be involved in other things. I still remember my teachers from my years there. Mrs. Bueschlen was my first teacher at ISB and I will always remember how caring and helpful she was during my transition from HK to ISB and how passionate she was about learning as well as her students. My 6 courses for IB diploma were HL Biology, Economics and French and SL Math, English and Chinese.
I was a double second-language student in HS, so the French department and especially my EE supervisor and three-year teacher M. Sylvain. Mr. Chen, who I also had for 3 years during my time at ISB. And then throughout the years, Mr. Howland, Mrs. Cole, Mr. Roberts, Mrs. and Mr. Evans, and Mr. Green all strongly impacted me.
Q: How much of a role did swimming play in your life at ISB?
Camille: I actually only started swimming competitively when I moved to Beijing. Before moving to Beijing I just swam for fun. When I moved to Beijing, we were in P.E. class and the coach at the time (Coach George, a Greek Olympian) saw me swim and told me to try out for the swim team. After that, my life was very centered around balancing my swimming with my academics and other extra-curricular activities. Maybe only swimmers will understand this, but swimming is a year round sport and you can’t really take much time away from it, so I spent a lot of time with other swimmers and many of my close friends were also on the swim team.
Q: What motivated you to keep practicing throughout your swimming career?
Camille: Many motivating factors:
Q: Did ISB prepare you for college at Berkeley? Describe your daily life there.
Camille: I’ve been asked this question before and I would say that ISB did prepare me for college academically. From an athletic standpoint however, I was really not aware of what I was getting myself into and at first, struggled with the transition and balancing. However, having had high expectations for myself and having been in a competitive environment at ISB, I pushed myself to work harder. This allowed me to become confident that I could handle both being a student at the top public university and an athlete swimming for a top collegiate program. When I was a student athlete, I typically woke up at 5:20am for 6:00-7:45am practice. Depending on my class schedule for the day I’d either go home and make a big breakfast or get something on the way to class. I’d always try and nap for at least an hour- an hour and a half before afternoon practice which varies from 12:30-4:00. Depending on the day I either had weights or some other cardio like dance, pilates and yoga, and then I would swim again. After that I either had class or study sessions, and then eventually I would eat an early dinner. I’d probably be in bed by 10:00-10:30.
Q: Describe the process of becoming an Olympian.
Camille: At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I watched from the stands and thought it would be a dream to compete at the Olympics. In 2012, after my first year at Cal, I trained with past and future Olympians, in addition to receiving coaching from the first woman head Olympic coach. It occurred to me that I might have a shot at making the Olympic team. I was very shy and didn’t really verbally express my goal of being an Olympian because I was scared to embarrass myself. In 2014 though, I think that’s when I started sharing my goals and told myself I’d rather give it all I have and not make it rather than hold back and have regrets. After that, I was held to that standard by my coaches and teammates. One year from the Olympics the IOC releases a qualifying standard. Each country can send their top two swimmers per event automatically if they have what is known as the “A cut.” In the December of 2015, I qualified in the 200 Free with an A cut.
Q: Were you tested by the difficult process of qualifying?
Camille: For me my biggest challenge was and still is my confidence. Because I’m technically relatively new to the international stage, I’m still learning a lot and I sometimes feel like I don’t belong and I’m not good enough to be racing these top athletes. I’ve definitely turned to my teammates and coaches who have all believed in me and remind me that I have worked so hard and deserve what I have achieved. It’s still a process but I’m getting there!
Q: What do you eat as an Olympian? How much training do you do?
Camille: I don’t have that strict of a diet, I just try to avoid eating too much of anything. Definitely always try to have a big breakfast. I train 9 times a week in the pool, 2 weights session, 2 dance or yoga sessions, but I spend at least 30 hours a week dedicated to my swimming demands: recovery and stretching is just as important.
Q: What is your pre-competition ritual?
Camille: I’ve performed best when I’m having fun and laughing with my teammates. I tend to get too serious sometimes so it’s nice to remind myself why I’m swimming and to just have fun.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring ISB athletes?
Camille: It’s a little harder being in Beijing to be as exposed to athletic programs, but there are a lot of opportunities to keep pursuing sports in college, you just need to ask and research a little. I will say that my four years as a student athlete at Cal were definitely not easy, especially my first 2 years I really struggled and contemplated quitting, but they were worth it. For me personally, I was challenged and pushed and through that, I was able to grow and learn about myself. Remember that you will have people that are accompanying you through it all. They are there to lift you up when you are at your lows and there to celebrate when you are at your highs. There are so many skills and qualities that you develop at ISB, such as the excellence that we strive for in the classroom. It’s just about being able to transfer those skills and that mentality to a sport. I’d also love to offer advice and help!
Image credit: Camille Cheng
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