Saiyidah Aisyah never enjoyed rowing machines much, but after first stepping into a rowing boat at the age of 16 she quickly discovered that she had found her passion. She went on to become Singapore’s first rower at an Olympic Games, self-funding the path to her historic debut through a job at Ngee Ann Polytechnic in Singapore. This episode of Day Jobs looks back at how Saiyidah managed to balance her dual career on her Olympic journey.

  • Former student development officer Saiyidah was the first rower to represent Singapore at the Olympic Games
  • She worked full-time at a university to fund her sporting ambitions
  • Watch her story in the video and then explore Athlete365’s free-to-use Career+ resources

“I am a Student Development Officer at a polytechnic in Singapore, and I am the first rower from my country to qualify for the Olympic Games.”

Either of those achievements is deserving of praise, but doing them simultaneously is another matter – something Saiyidah Aisyah knows all about.

Balancing your time between a full-time job and training naturally has its difficulties, and Saiyidah is quick to admit that she is a very self-motivated person. “At 4:30 am I wake up,” she explains. “I set six alarm clocks because my greatest fear is to be late to training. It takes about an hour and a half to get to the training centre, and I’m on the water by 6 am.”

For Saiyidah, this busy schedule was the cost of being able to pursue her sporting ambitions – which she did in becoming Singapore’s first Olympic rower at Rio 2016.

Saiyidah worked with the polytechnic’s young athletes, helping them with both their academic work and their sport. Despite the demands on her time and energy, her dual career wasn’t just a necessity but a passion.

“You want to make a difference in people’s lives,” she explains. “That’s ultimately what we should all be doing. I enjoy telling my stories. I enjoy seeing people achieving their dreams as well.”

Those around her agree. “It is really amazing for people like us who are having so much trouble with time management and comparing with her – she is so good with time management and this is something we can take away from her. I believe that how she does it, we can also follow,” says Mya Mya Aye, one of her students.

“She is perfect for this job,” adds colleague Ashraf Harrth Periera. “She more than anyone else can understand what [the students] are going through – show them how to balance between their work and what they have to do academically with what they have to do as an athlete.”

Does Saiyidah resent having had to balance her sport with her employment?

“My choice is the pursue my dream. I believe in what I am doing, that it will make me happy and that it will make [others] happy as well.

“I love my sport. I love waking up at crazy hours every morning. I love all the blisters on my hands. There are no shortcuts to being an Olympian.”

Are you an elite athlete interested in pursuing employment while continuing to compete at the highest level? Go to Career+ to access free-to-use, online resources on education, employment, life skills and more advice on balancing competition and career. Check out the other episodes of the Olympic Channel series Day Jobs for more inspirational examples of athletes balancing work and sport.