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Aisyah Rafaee has been preparing her mind, body, and soul for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris by working on her strength work, mobility, and flexibility to prevent injuries while ramping up her intensity. Her journey is seriously motivating her students on the Hydrow platform, so M&F talked to the lady herself to find out what’s driving all the PR’s.

Rafaee got her first taste of rowing success in 2004 while still in the Bukit Government High School in Singapore. During a rowing machine competition organized by her school, the rapid student was talent scouted to become a partner with a former national rower. Eager to try, the young upstart didn’t take to it at first, but realized that she had potential and decided to stick with the sport. “I’ve learned that I can achieve what I want if I put my mind to it,” the now elite athlete tells M&F. “I became the first Singaporean rower to qualify and participate in the Olympic Games (in Rio, 2016),”

Aisyah Rafaee rowing in the open waters

Aisyah Rafaee leads by example

Like many would-be athletes or even those who just want to improve their health and fitness levels, Rafaee has dealt with her fair share of ups and downs. “Capsizing in my first-ever single-scull race,” is one dreaded memory that comes to her mind. At the Asian Games in 2014, a rib injury knocked Rafaee’s confidence and derailed her performance.

“There was a newspaper report which stated: ‘Came in dead last.’ I came back from that low however, by winning two bronze medals at the South East Asian Games in 2015.” With little financial support, the trailblazer was forced to crowdfund to pay her way, while athletes from other countries picked up lucrative sponsorship deals. After failing to earn a medal at the 2016 Olympics, coming in 23rd in Rio, Rafaee lost focus and was unable to see how she’d made history by even entering the games, instead retiring from the sport for two years. “I suffered from athlete identity concerns,” she tells M&F.

But Rafaee’s up and down journey with rowing only makes her more relatable to her students who face their own trials and tribulations on their own journeys to be more active. As an athletic councillor, Rafaee motivates others through her own experiences of success and failure. “You don’t have to be instantly smitten with something to find its true reward, but knowing what motivates you is important to keep going,” she says.

Aisyah Rafaee reignited a love of rowing

This role model rower was able to reignite her own love of the sport after signing up with Hydrow, a leading at-home connected rowing platform that brings people together for single or group sessions led by Rafaee herself. “I’ve realized that I am a curious person and a learner,” explains the athlete-come-coach. “Despite having been in this sport for 20 years, I am still interested to learn more about it and that’s what I love about the sport—it is always evolving.” While the sport maybe evolving, so is Rafaee, and her Hydrow community is motivated more than ever after learning that she’s back in the Olympic hunt after qualifying for Paris.

“I’m super excited,” she tells M&F. “I think it also hasn’t really sunk in yet that I will become a two-time Olympian!” As for us mere mortals, rowing on water, or on a machine is an ideal way to get in shape. “It is a whole-body sport,” explains Rafaee. “It is challenging, but also very rewarding.” The 36-year-old inspiration says that Hydrow is a gamechanger for all abilities because it “Helps anyone, no matter your fitness level, to get started with rowing; by learning the basics of rowing strokes and ultimately gaining fitness both strength and cardio.”

Rafaee appreciates the community that she is part of both with Hydrow, and her Olympic peers, and feels that finding a support group is essential for smashing PR’s. “I am grateful for the support and love that I get not only from Singapore, but from all over the world,” she says. “Especially in a single scull where I often train and travel alone, it is endearing to know that I have my own ‘teammates’ wherever I go!”

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