At 21 years old, Kimberly Lim has travelled to more places than she can remember and has covered more ground (and water) than most of us have. The cheery sailor has been training with the national sailing team since she was 11 years old.

Just home from training in Portugal and competing in Spain, the national sailor and member of SMU Sailing sat down with SMU Snapshots to chat about the whirlwind life of an athlete and how she has grown with the sport.


Kimberly Lim, national sailor and member of SMU Sailing

Picking up the sport

Kimberly was scouted to join the national team when she was still fairly new to the sport. She thinks back to her pre-sailing days when she was shy, didn’t like to go outdoors and hated the beach.

Being out alone at sea was scary at the start. But with the support of family, her sister who had sailing experience and the company of friends who were equally apprehensive, Kimberly quickly grew to love the sport.

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Kimberly sailing the Optimist

“You’re alone in the boat, but there are many other young kids like you not knowing what they’re doing. Then you realise that we’re all in this together. All these people whom you meet when you’re really young, you grow up together and get better together. It’s a community that you grow up with.”

Besides making friends who become like family, Kimberly enjoys sailing for the dynamism of the sport. Every day at sea is a completely new experience. She loves the thrill of working hard and seeing her efforts pay off. She recalls one of her most rewarding experiences during the 2011 IODA Optimist World Championships.

“It is the best feeling when you put in effort and see the rewards. There was this period where we kept losing every single race when we were supposed to win. It was frustrating but we kept working hard. During the finals, we finally won the gold. I had never felt so happy in my life. That feeling when we crossed the line and knew we had won is indescribable.”

Self-discipline is a must

Having spent much of her childhood and youth sailing, Kimberly shares that she has grown to learn a lot about herself and the world through her sailing experiences.

One of the people that Kimberly looks up to is Peter Burling, an Olympic gold medallist sailor from New Zealand.

“He sails the 49er, the same boat that I sail. It is amazing, how he commands the boat with so much control and ease. He also has a great work ethic and personality – humble despite the fame, and even a little goofy, I think. He is definitely talented, but to get where he is takes a lot of training, proper resources, coaching and hard work. You have to put yourself through rough conditions, so that when it arises during competition, you are ready and comfortable to do it.”

It is unmistakable how Kimberly demonstrates the same work ethic that she admires in Peter Burling. During our conversation, she reveals how being an athlete has taken a lot of discipline, determination and sacrifice. Since young, a typical day in her life looks like this: rush homework during lessons, rush leftover homework in the car on the way to training, study at the sailing centre. Her sailing and student life is peppered with “a lot of in-between studying”, Kimberly calls it.

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Kimberly and partner sailing the 49erFX

Strangely, Kimberly’s grades started to improve when she joined the national team in primary five. As trainings grew longer and competitions became more frequent, Kimberly’s performance in school began to improve drastically.

“Ironically, during the harder years of my sailing career, I did really well at school. It’s because I felt that I had to do things faster and more efficiently, and with more focus. So then, I performed better in both sailing and studies. Both complemented each other and gave me the breaks that I needed. When I over-trained, I would find relief in studying. After studying, I would go back to sailing with renewed strength and enthusiasm. I really enjoyed doing both.”

Developing resilience and humility

Besides a strong work ethic, Kimberly’s sailing experiences have also developed her to become more resilient, bouncing back quickly from setbacks.

“In sailing, you are pushed to your limits and put through a lot of problems, hurdles and tests. You get to discover so much about yourself. You learn how to pick yourself up and come back from failure. I’ve learnt how to look past things when they don’t go as planned, and focus on what needs to be done.”

Kimberly and partner sailing on Lake Garda

Humility is another trait that sailors learn quickly with experience. As sailors mature, they naturally progress to the next stages. At each stage, the sailor has a different set of boats to choose from and an entirely new set of skills to learn.

“You might be the best in the boat that you just graduated from, but when you progress to the next boat, you start from scratch right at the bottom. That’s the beauty of the sport. It reminds you that you should never be complacent or proud about where you are. There will always be good and bad days, but if you stay humble and remind yourself the steps that you need to take to get to where you want, and you stay hungry for it, you’ll get there.”

Self-motivation and a strong support network

On becoming a full-time athlete, Kimberly shares that the one thing that motivates her to do what she does every single day is passion.

“Everything also becomes smoother when you are motivated by passion. Because, whatever you face, you know that you will find your way to get through it.”

Another piece of advice that she has for those who want to enter the world of Olympic sports is to find support – from your family, friends, school and federation.

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Kimberly and partner sailing the 49erFX

“Without support, it is very difficult to even progress because there will be too many problems ahead of you that will be difficult to get through on your own. Things like running a campaign, traveling to practice and compete, these are all very expensive and require support. When you’re out there training and competing, with support, you don’t have to worry about all the things happening around you. You can just focus on your sport.”

Preparing for the 2020 Olympics

After spending her first two semesters campaigning for the 2016 Summer Olympics while struggling to put equal effort in her studies, Kimberly has decided to better focus her efforts. She will be taking time off from school to sail full-time, as she prepares for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

“If we really want to do it [the Olympic Games], we should do it properly. It’ll be very sad at the end of the day if I struggle to do both, and I end up not doing well in my studies and not getting what I want in sailing. I would have wasted these few years when I could have done one really well by really prioritising.”

At the same time, Kimberly is grateful for SMU’s support in pursuing her dreams: “they [SMU] shared with me their belief, that we don’t really have enough time to do all the things that we want to accomplish in our lives, so we should take the chance when it comes.”


Kimberly and partner sailing the 420

Kimberly and partner sailing the 420

We wish Kimberly all the best for the 2020 Summer Olympics! To follow her expeditions around the world and preparation for Tokyo 2020, and to show your support, check out her team’s Facebook page.