If you’re a 90’s kid, then you probably would have remembered watching a sixteen year old Carolyn Au-Yong receiving the gold and bronze medals for Malaysia’s triumph in rhythmic gymnastics at the 1998 Commonwealth Games. Eighteen years have past since then and Carolyn has long retired from competitive gymnastics, but the art of the sport still runs strong in her blood.
She fell in love with gymnastics during her primary years, and exchanged her carefree childhood to that of discipline, hard work and gruelling training schedules all for the day that she may stand on the mat at the Commonwealth Games. Her dreams came true but her passion for the sport didn’t wither. In her pursuit to pass the baton and expand rhythmic gymnastics in Malaysia, she founded Carolyn’s School of Rhythmic Gymnastics (CSRG); a venue for young girls to realize their passion for the precise sport. This is our conversation with her.
It wasn’t part of your plan to become a coach, but yet here you are!
[Laughs] I studied advertising and graphic design in college, but after graduating I took a break to gain some work experience. Around the same time, one of the coaches I know was looking for an assistant coach. I offered to help out where I could and it was then that I discovered how much I love coaching. Eventually, I pursued it full-time and I never went back to advertising and graphic design.
You own and run a rhythmic gymnastics school; what inspired you to open Carolyn’s School of Rhythmic Gymnastics (CSRG)?
I've been coaching for about 12 years now. CSRG was however established 5 years ago. Before this, I was moving around different schools, providing rhythmic gymnastics classes. I finally decided to open a school so I could introduce more girls to the sport. I love what I do, and with that, it makes my job a whole lot more meaningful. It is really a joy to work with kids and I am very grateful to be given the opportunity to nurture them in this sport called rhythmic gymnastics. I am very thankful to have a career I'm truly passionate about. Not many people can say the same.
What do you hope to do through CSRG?
I hope to further introduce the sport to the people of Malaysia. There are quite a number of clubs that offer rhythmic gymnastics lessons, but personally, it’s important to stress on building the foundation that these girls receive. They may not pursue it competitively, but it’ll teach them how to be discipline, learn how to follow instructions, and build their characters. I also hope to nurture more girls from a young age and see them grow exponentially. Currently, I have two girls that I’ve passed on to the national team; it really makes me proud because it’s such an achievement to see these girls graduate to bigger and better things.
What are the challenges that you have to overcome?
When I first started the school, it was quite difficult to get students to come. I handed out leaflets and from just ten kids, it grew. I am currently renting the venue that runs the school and I’m trying to find a suitable space that will allow me to have more classes and more girls come through. I handle every aspect of the school’s management: I teach classes, do the scheduling, collect fees, and other ad hoc tasks. I am there from nine in the morning to six in the evening with a half hour break in between.
What makes you go the extra mile?
It’s the competitions we involve ourselves in. To see the girls achieving good rankings, winning medals and seeing the smiles on their faces make me want to move further and try harder. It’s really about the kids. There are people who will tell you that you can’t do it or that you’re not good enough. Instead of giving in, continue to be encouraged and listen to how you feel and surround yourself with the people who’ll support you.
How has this sport shaped who you are today?
I have a strong character and I have to thank rhythmic gymnastics for that. I have grown to be very independent, discipline and also particular (maybe a little bit!). It’s because of my exposure to rhythmic gymnastics that made me brave enough to open a school. Despite all the challenges that come with running a school, I’m able to see things through and because of that, I get to watch my girls grow.
They may not pursue it competitively, but it’ll teach them how to be discipline... follow instructions, and... build their characters.
One might easily assume that coaching rhythmic gymnastics would be the predictable next step after leaving the mat. On the contrary, Carolyn isn’t in this for obvious reasons. Her passion for the sport and her love for the children under her wing have created a platform for young girls to shape and grow in their journey. Whether it’s becoming Malaysia’s next Olympic champion or simply for the purpose of leisure, Carolyn will continue to cultivate perfection through the art of rhythmic gymnastics.