From almost missing the World Flowboarding Championships to winning it, Ili Lim is a story that more than inspires.
Having suffered from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury that kept her out of flowboarding for almost a year, she also had to overcome the grief suffered from her grandmother’s passing just weeks prior to the competition, before eventually deciding to participate in the event held in Abu Dhabi a few weeks ago.
Participating in the competition would have been an achievement in itself, but Ili went on to win first in both divisions in the Women’s FlowBarrel and finished third on the FlowRider.
It was a remarkable turnaround for the 24-year-old, who only decided at the eleventh hour to compete in the international tournament, despite not having trained as much as she would have liked.
“I was low in confidence and I hadn’t been training much, but I told myself that it’s not about how much you train, it’s about how well you adapt,” Ili said.
“I changed my mindset because of what happened with my grandmother. It made me calmer somehow, and I think that gave me that advantage because the other girls were trying their best and were panicky, they couldn’t really control their nerves.
“Previously I would have put extra pressure on myself and be like ‘I need to do this’, or ‘I have to be at this spot’. But I was a lot calmer this year, and then I saw the chance of winning the sport, so I just went for it.
“Of course I was really shocked. I thought I would be second or third and I didn’t think I would win, but it felt good.”
Ili, who picked up the sport over five years ago and is sponsored by Billabong, has participated in various local and regional tournaments and competitions over the years. She had even won the recent competition back in 2010 too, but she labeled her latest victory as her best one yet, due to the nature of the circumstances.
“I lost my grandma a week before the competition so I didn’t know whether I wanted to go or not,” she admitted.
“It’s hard for me, but a couple of people, even my mom, told me I should go, so I decided to just get the tickets and Billabong was really helpful with everything, helping me settle everything else.
“My first biggest achievement was back in 2010 when I won the world title as well, but after that I’ve been getting a lot of injuries. I tore my ACL fully last year, so I had it reconstructed. I went for surgery and then went for rehabilitation, so this feels like a comeback.”
The ‘Comeback Kid’ didn’t have it easy though, as she had to overcome her archrival Amy Stevens from team USA to win the FlowBarrel.
“Outside competition we are really good friends, but in it we want to really kill each other,” she chuckled.
“It’s really intense. She has this aura when she comes to the wave like she owns it and it makes you feel very demoralised and I can’t stand it. But it’s a good competition, and it forces you to be better.
“She finished second, but usually during the finals it will always be between myself and her. There’ll be riders who are good but we will always end up together so there’s always this tension. But we’re really good friends!”
With the world title now under her belt, Ili is in no mood to rest on her laurels, and wants to do her part to inspire other girls and to increase the popularity of the sport.
“I think Flowboarding is still very niche, it’s a really young sport,” she said.
“It’s not that popular yet but it’s definitely growing. It’s growing a lot bigger now because the Flowrider is popping up almost everywhere in Asia such as Manila and Jakarta, so I think it is going to grow big.”
“My long term goal would be to inspire all Asian girls to be out there to ride, because this year I was just sitting beside my competitor and she was 10 years younger than me!”
Having beaten the odds to emerge victorious in the face of real adversity, Ili has inspired many others with her display of mental strength, grit, determination, pure willpower and of course, the talent to back it all up.
But even more than that, her achievements have put Singapore on the world map for a relatively new sport, and she has paved way for other Singaporeans to conquer the world.
Photo Credit for featured picture: Diego Fuentes Elguera