Esther Tan Cheng Yin, 42, Singapore’s First Female Naval Diver

At just 1.55 m tall, it’s hard to imagine Esther Tan as one of the nation’s toughest women. And yet, that’s exactly what she is.

Having recently left the Singapore Navy, where she held the rank of Major in the elite Naval Diving Unit, Esther still holds the distinction of being Singapore’s first female navy diver.

Dubbed Singapore’s GI Jane, Esther has made history in a job that involves search-and-rescue operations and explosive ordnance disposal.

For many the sheer body strength needed to complete many of the tasks on the job are incomprehensible, and even more so for a lady.

“Gender isn’t an issue: What’s more important is ability. I’m glad I listened to my heart and not the physical limitations of my body,” Esther says of her time in the force.

Of her ceiling-shattering role, Esther surprisingly says that she didn’t set out to break any gender stereotypes.

“I did it because of the love of adventure and the thrill. It also goes beyond just the physical; it’s also about the mental capacity, the endurance and how far you are willing to push yourself,” she explains.

While part of her job comprised clearing bombs underwater, Esther was also involved in many search and rescue operations, including the recovery of missing naval officers in the 2005 RSS Courageous collision with a container ship.

Looking back on 22 years of naval service, Esther can’t help but be proud of her time there. “I was following my heart.

There was nothing more that I could ask for in a job that required both mental strength and mettle, with a strong emphasis on teamwork and professionalism,” she confesses.

“Till today, I still feel it’s one of the best choices I’ve made.”

After an illustrious career, Esther left earlier this year and she now takes part in expedition races in the desert and over mountains for hundreds of kilometres at a stretch.

Words to live by: “Gender isn’t an issue. What’s more important is your ability.”

Next up: “It’s time for me to explore the unexplored. I’m heading to the Himalayas to discover some unchartered trails. Since leaving the Navy, I organise treks to Nepal and India, too, for Project Himalayas.”

The Great Women Of Our Time 2017 is proudly presented by Lancôme.