Down, but not out
Vanessa falls at water jump, but recovers spectacularly
She recalled how it all started so smoothly when she kicked off her attempt to win gold in the 'A' Division 2,000m steeplechase at the National Inter-school Track and Field Championship in April.
Vanessa Lee appeared to be cruising to victory, building a comfortable lead over her rivals after clearing the first hurdle at the Bukit Gombak Stadium.
The Victoria Junior College student didn't know that disaster was looming.
The water jump was next and, as Vanessa (above) prepared for her first attempt at the obstacle, the 17-year-old steeled her nerves and told herself: "Okay, I can do this."
Moments later, she fell into the water.
Breaking into peals of laughter as she looked back on the incident, Vanessa told The New Paper: "There were usually no water hurdles when we practise, and I'd never seen a real water hurdle before.
"My coach told us the whole pit would be filled with water, but somehow I couldn't imagine what a full pit would look like - until I got closer and closer to it.
"And then I jumped, and I fell.
"My whole body plunged in and I was completely drenched!"
What happened next, however, was remarkable.
The 1.55m-tall athlete picked herself up and ran the race of her life, storming to a gold medal in a new national junior record and meet time of 8min 0.94sec.
"I came out of water pretty quickly, partly because I was afraid of getting stepped on," Vanessa said, still giggling.
"I also saw that my senior had overtaken me, but I could also hear my friends and coach cheering for me.
"I wanted to win for my teammates because we were also aiming to be the overall champions."
In secondary school, Vanessa was a member of a string ensemble and she started running competitively only last year, at the annual inter-school cross country meet.
Despite having no formal training, she finished fourth.
She eventually settled on the steeplechase and credited her progress in athletics to the invaluable guidance from her coach and healthy competition with cross country teammate Nicole Low.
Said Vanessa: "Nicole and I are competitive on the track, but we're also supportive of each other both in athletics and in our studies."
VJC's cross country teacher-in-charge Tan Yew Hwee has always been impressed by Vanessa's never-say-die attitude.
He said: "I remember watching her at the cross country championship when she was in Sec 4.
"She started at the back and caught up to finish in fourth place - and she had no background in athletics.
"This year was her first time running the steeplechase, and she did it."
Vanessa has set herself new targets for next year.
Obviously, she aims to improve, at least maintaining her position in the cross country race, and breaking her own steeplechase record.
She quickly added: "And I do not want to fall into the water again."