Two minutes. Ethel Lin had two months to extinguish that gap if she wanted to realize her SEA Games aspirations once again.

She spent the better half of three years attempting to claw back her fitness amidst work and injury woes. A tear in her calf muscle took her out for two months earlier this year, hampering her chase for a qualifier.

“It feels like I’ve been playing snakes and ladders, but it has been mainly snakes and very few ladders,” said Lin, 33.

She proceeded to blow the qualifying mark out of the water at the Asian Triathlon Championships in Gyeongju, Korea. Her result of 2 hours 21 minutes 35 seconds was well under the 2:26 qualifier.

Unfinished business at the SEA Games

At the 2015 SEA Games, Lin was in medal contention right till she lost consciousness. She was known to others as “that girl who fainted.” Not the best way to be remembered from the biggest competition of your career. Lin decided she wanted to change her narrative.

For three years, she struggled to balance work and training. Somehow, she always seemed to pick up an injury right before she could prove her fitness, delaying her comeback journey by weeks, then months, then years.

Lin completed her first standard distance in three years at April’s ASTC Subic Bay Asian Cup, where she came within two minutes of the SEA Games qualifying mark despite minimal training.

Said Lin, “Leaving Subic (Bay), I was happy to have raced hard and gotten the best out of myself and come close to the SEA Games qualifying time. But there was a strong sense that I had to do better.

She had until June to make up those two minutes. It was go time.

Full-time lawyer to full-time athlete

In May, she switched to part-time status at the Competition and Consumer Commission legal division so she could train full-time. Mornings at the pool, treadmill session in the afternoon.

Her swim toys even accompanied her to the track. Well after the rest of her team had showered and headed out, Lin would still be working on her paddle drills.

She soon discovered, however, that she needed to do more than just work on the individual elements with different coaches. Lin contacted Tian Wei Zhang, a Taiwan triathlon coach she met while racing on the circuit, and spent three weeks with her squad in the hills of Taiwan prior to the Asian Championships.

“I get to train daily with female athletes who are more competitive in the Asian circuit,” said Lin. “I look at them daily and know that’s the level I need to be at to be competitive against the girls from the Philippines, who are the favourites at the SEA Games.”

It was the first time Lin’s training was customised for her triathlon needs. She reaped the benefits almost instantaneously; two months and one race later, Lin improved by six minutes. She’d earned a nomination slot to her second SEA Games squad.

Once Lin’s SEA Games slot is confirmed in August, she plans to take no-pay leave and return to Taiwan, where she hopes to close the gap on the Filipinos by December.

“I was struggling to piece the different pieces of the triathlon puzzle together while balancing the demands of work (in Singapore),” said Lin.

I feel much healthier and stronger now. My SEA Games dream means enough for me to keep trying.