“I can’t swim,” May Schooling confesses with a chuckle. We’ve been sitting in the Schoolings’ Marine Parade office for the better part of half an hour, chatting about motherhood and much more before this revelation comes to light.
I look at her in disbelief, refusing to accept that she doesn’t know her backstroke from her butterfly. “Joseph was really a water baby from the get-go. He had no fear. He would jump into the sea, pools and river; you couldn’t stop him,” she remembers. “So for me, it was like ‘I can’t swim, who’s going to save him? I have to make sure he’s water safe’, and that’s how I made sure he learnt how to swim.”
It’s a curious thing to hear that the woman who was so instrumental in the development of the athlete who would bring home Singapore’s first-ever Olympic gold in 2016, in swimming no less, could barely tread water. “Well, I won’t drown but the most I can do is a doggy paddle,” she admits. “His father [Colin] is the swimmer in this family.”
May is refreshingly open and cheerful about so many aspects of her family. She reveals that she grew up poor, and even after she married Colin in 1983, she feared she would never become a mother. Joseph is her miracle baby, in a way.