Chinese dance is transferable to athletics, according to triple jump national record holder Tia Louise Rozario.

No, that’s not a typo. Both activities require leaping and a sense of rhythm, which many coaches observed in Rozario. First when she breezed through the 100-metre trials in Nanyang Primary School, where she was scouted at least twice before she joined the team to accompany her best friend. When she competed at local and overseas meets as a junior national athlete, many coaches told her that she would have success in the sandpit.

Then, Rozario, the undisputed champion throughout her national schools career, was a force to be reckoned with domestically. On the international stage, however, it was her jumping skills that got her medals and caught the eye of other coaches.

“(All these coaches) told me that I could be a very good jumper in the future, but I never really heard anything about hurdles. I took that as a sign,” said Rozario, 19.

From jumping over hurdles to jumping into sandpits

For eight years, Rozario did the 100m hurdles-long jump duo at a competitive level, amassing six 100-metre hurdle titles and four long jump titles during her National School Games career.

The hurdles and long jump double is not a common pairing. At least once a year, Rozario dashes from the track to the pit, sometimes missing the first two attempts because of the schedule clash.

Right before she put her training on hold to study for the IB, she decided to try the triple jump. She had nothing to train for, nothing to lose, just an insatiable sense of curiosity.

With minimal training, she leapt 11.93m at the 2018 Hong Kong Inter-City Championships, just 1cm shy of the junior record. Coming that close to a record without much training only kept Rozario dreaming about her potential in the event during the six months she was desk-bound studying for the IB.

“I love technical events. If you change one arm swing, you can improve so much. When you can continuously make improvements, that’s the best-case scenario,” said Rozario.

Once exams were over, she sought out her primary school coach, Chu Seow Beng. Within a few months, she broke the record twice, first at the Singapore Open, then again at the Hong Kong Inter-City Championships where her triple jump journey began.

“I wouldn’t say (the record) was unexpected,” said Rozario, who now owns it at 12.26m. She is the only one born in this millennium to own a national athletics record.

Exploring everything before specializing

Before Rozario even started exploring the various events in athletics – she transferred from high jump to 100m to long jump within two years – she was involved in tennis, Chinese dance and calligraphy simultaneously.

Before slapping on the Singapore trope that her parents were forcing an unreasonable number of activities on her to quickly suss out where she would perform the best, Rozario is quick to tell you that she joined all those on her own accord. Curious by nature, signing up for multiple activities was just her way of discovering her interests as she manoeuvred through life.

Even as she transitioned to competitive athletics, her parents were always there to support her endeavours. At any competition, local or international, they put aside time to watch her compete.

“My parents understood that we go through life, we try different things, then in time we figure out where we fit in best,” said Rozario, whose mother was a former jumper.

Only upon enrolling in the Singapore Sports School did she finally reduce her co-curricular activities to just the one based on how much fun she had – as well as the amount of sun exposure.

“In tennis, you can get very tired because you’re in the sun for 3-4 hours per match. Track and field was more exciting for me because there were so many events,” said Rozario.

Who says nerds can’t do sports?

Studying isn’t exclusive to academics. Rozario, a self-professed nerd, researched ideal body types that would perform best across each event. While she dominated the local hurdle races, she lacked the necessary speed and power her International rivals possessed to excel in the event.

For the triple jump? Long limbs, check. Bouncy feet, check. Six attempts to get it right? Done deal for a perfectionist such as herself.

“By the time I land in the sand, I already have a whole list of things that went right or wrong,” said Rozario, who sometimes struggles with overthinking before taking each jump.

But to her, that’s the beauty of technical events. One arm swing, switching the takeoff leg, any small tweak can potentially convert to a better result. Or in her case, a national record.

“It was a relief after breaking (the record) the first time,” she said. “Training for triple jump became even more exciting because I knew how much effort I put in to get to that point, and I also knew how much more I had to work on since it was a new event for me.”

To further pursue her sports dreams, Rozario will further her studies at Princeton University while she trains with the varsity athletics team. Yet to declare her major, she’ll spend the first two years figuring out what she wants to specialise in – “I love biology, but I feel like my interests lie in economics as well,” says Rozario – rings true to her life mantra of taking life as it comes.

If I can do it, so can you

Out of the 26 national records that Singapore Athletics monitors, only five of them were set on home soil. Amidst Rozario’s triple jump record-setting, her senior, Nur Izlyn Zaini, clocked Singapore’s first sub-14 in the 100m hurdles to set a national record of 13.88s in her first year at Georgia Southern University.

“I was chasing her records in the past. I know how difficult it is,” said Rozario, who listed Izlyn as her sports inspiration. “Even though she has all these achievements, you wouldn’t know that by talking to her because she’s so down to earth and friendly to everyone.”

Though pursuing high-performance sports at a collegiate level is not common among Singaporeans because of the paper chase culture, Rozario has fewer qualms about choosing this path. After all, her seniors have paved the way for her.

“(Izlyn) had the courage to take the leap, which inspired me to have that courage as well,” said Rozario.

What she’ll miss most about home? Her grandmother’s cooking, who often cooks a spread of dishes with rice that Rozario always looks forward to.

“I’m her favourite,” she said with a cheeky smile.

While Rozario won’t be trying any new events in the near future as she hones in on her high-performance dreams, don’t be surprised if you ever find her tall, thin lanky frame in a shot put ring.

“The stereotype is that you have to be very strong for throws, but height actually plays a major role,” she said.