A Story of Perseverance and Fearlessness
Diagnosed with scoliosis at a very young age, Chelsea joined swimming as a form of physical therapy to aid her condition. However, her coach at the time saw massive potential in her swimming abilities and encouraged her to train and pursue swimming competitively.
In 2011, when Chelsea was 9 years old, she joined her first competition, she didn't enjoy it at all. She said:
"I didn't initially enjoy it, but over time I slowly found the joy in competing."
As she found her joy in swimming, she realised that this could be her destiny as well.
Destined from the Start
Chelsea said that swimming was always meant to be a big part of her life, even when she was just a baby. It's even how she got her name!
When Chelsea was just a baby, her parents were unsure what her name was to be. So, they travelled to a temple, where it was said that "she needs water in her life." From that one phrase, her parents decided on the name Chelsea. A nice play on words (Chel-SEA).
For her, it was always meant to be. Something that was ordained and destined for her. For all the stress she faced in her life and school as a young student, swimming was her escape, her fortress of solitude.
The water was her tranquil place. Where her mind would be at ease, where she could refocus on herself. There she could be herself, and there she did. Chelsea has gone on to compete in over 100 swimming competitions since 2011, finding her groove and honing her skills and techniques along the way.
An Uncertain Time
However, this didn't come without its own challenges. Chelsea faced a stagnant period in her swimming abilities and competitive streak. She felt and had been told by her own peers and coach that her skills weren't improving. Having trained for so long, she knew she should be much better than she was at that point in time.
But where people may be discouraged and give up by hearing words like that, Chelsea chose to persevere.
With unrelenting strength and determination, courageous Chelsea joined a significantly more difficult, risky, and physically demanding type of swimming, open-water swimming.
To undertake a sport like this takes a lot of strength, mental fortitude, and fearlessness, and Chelsea had all of it. Open-water swimming has no handholding involved. The swimmer is no longer in an enclosed and protected body of water. There are no lifeguards on the bylines or limits to depths. As it says on the tin, you are swimming in open waters.
Chelsea faced these challenges head-on, and with 3 years of open-water swimming experience under her belt, she decided to take part in France's Le Flow des Gabarriers.
A gruelling 33-kilometre swim on France's Charante River, Le Flow des Gabarriers is the longest non-stop open-water swim marathon that goes across 12 towns in the Charante region of France.
Despite many challenges, such as being wrongly guided by officials off the path and being all alone in the open river, Chelsea remained steadfast. With the aid of her kayakist, Chelsea remembered why she fell in love with the sport and gained the strength to focus on her own game and her own rhythm, and pushed on.
With world-renowned contestants such as Australian swimmer Chloe McCardel competing against her, Chelsea Lee Ning emerged triumphant and became the youngest Malaysian woman to conquer the prestigious Le Flow de Gabarriers.
Chelsea's journey is one to learn from. That no matter what challenges you face, your determination is what will get you through. No matter your background or experience, if you put in the work, you will succeed in everything you do.
"But this is not just about individual glory. The bigger goal is to put Malaysia on the world map with an excellent performance and ultimately create exposure and popularise the sport of open water swimming in the country." - Chelsea Lee Ning, Le Flow de Gabarriers Champion