Swimming champ: Malaysian mother of three Cindy Ong can’t stop winning despite permanent shoulder damage

Melanie Chalil
The former national swimmer recently won five golds and two silvers at the 18th Fina World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea. – Pix by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 13 — Whether it’s rain or shine, you will find former national swimmer Cindy Ong training hard early in the morning at her condominium’s swimming pool five times a week.

It’s an ongoing training which includes also includes three gym sessions a week and yoga for stretching.

The 35-year-old recently made headlines in August for winning five golds and two silvers at the 18th Fina World Masters Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.

This included the 50 metres butterfly and 100 metres freestyle competitions.

Ong trains five times a week at her condo’s swimming pool.

She also in the Malaysia Book of Records for being the country’s first female swimmer to win the most gold medals in a world stage championship.

For Ong, who won six gold medals at the 2004 Sukma Games in her national swimmer days, the motivation has plenty to do with challenging herself.

“That was definitely the highlight of my career, there’s nothing higher than being world champion,” said the first-ever Malaysian to win gold at the World Masters Championships.

The Ipoh-born swimmer ended her 10-year hiatus two years ago with the 17th World Masters Championships in Budapest.

Following a 10-year hiatus from the sport, Ong jumped back into the competitive scene with the World Masters at Budapest two years ago, six months after giving birth to her third child.

With the aim of making it to the top 10, she was placed fifth.

“I thought why not go all out and see if I can podium at the next,” she said.

The mum of three also has free swimming lessons for friends and residents at her condo.

Even with permanent shoulder damage, she told Malay Mail she plans to compete as long as she can.

Just two weekends ago, Ong took home eight golds at the Singapore Masters.

The competitive swimmer has won so many medals that she has lost count.

“I hang them all on an Ikea shower rod,” she said after her usual class with some friends who live in the condominium.

Born into a family of professional swimmers – her older brother Allen went to the 2000 and2004 Olympics while her aunt Ong Mei Lin was one of the first women to represent Malaysia in the 1972 Munich Olympics – carving out a career in swimming pools came naturally.

Despite competing from the tender age of six and breaking the national record five times in her youth, Ong only realised she wanted to do this for the rest of the life a few years ago.

“As a kid, I always swam because my dad said so but my interest took over when I started winning because everyone likes winning,” she said.

But don’t let the competitive streak fool you.

Despite damaged shoulders, Ong says she plans to compete as long as she can.

Ong is not one to count calories, preferring to focus on quality training over what she calls “garbage mileage” or training with no purpose.

“I eat nasi lemak with fried chicken every single morning, there’s a stall down here, they know me,” she said with a laugh.

While she stays away from carbs before a meet, the svelte swimmer says her ice-cream is her guilty pleasure and enjoys a serving everyday once a meet is over.

The mum to three kids – Hayden Kole Kit, nine, Kiara Belle Kit, five and Connor Matthew Kit, two – who is married to a Cambodian-American telco engineer credits the sport to help her get back into shape when became overweight after her second pregnancy.

As the country’s fastest nine-year-old who made it to the Malaysia Book of Records, Ong eldest son Hayden seems to have inherited his mum’s aquatic prowess.

“It would be nice if he’s an upcoming star but it’s still up to him. I can’t push beyond what he wants to do,” said Ong.

She also hoped that Malaysia could rise to a higher level and called for the need for specialised coaching in the various swim categories instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.

“It’s not an easy sport because I’ve been through it.

“It must come from the athlete, so first, the person has to want it,” she said.

Asked if she would consider taking up the position of coaching the national team, Ong said it was not likely as her three young children keep her busy at home.

“It’s not something I’d do this moment because that would take away my passion for competing and I won’t be able to train myself,” she said.

Ong will next compete in the Japan Masters Sprint later this month.

*Claire Roberts contributed to this report.

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