Age is no barrier for oldest athlete Heo
Team Singapore's oldest athlete Heo, 50, will be competing alongside her former students
Vicki Heo spends her days teaching English at Marymount Convent School in Toa Payoh, leading the country's younger generation within the confines of a classroom.
But, at the SEA Games this month, she'll be flying the flag as Team Singapore's oldest athlete.
The 50-year-old will be participating in petanque and, unknown to many, she is the is the most accomplished exponent of the sport among her compatriots.
Her tally of three bronzes - two in the women's singles and doubles events at the 2005 Games in the Philippines and one in the women's triples at the 2007 Games in Thailand - makes her Singapore's most decorated petanque player at the SEA Games.
Speaking to The New Paper at the Toa Payoh Sports Hall recently, Heo said: "Although it is quite a feat to be competing as Team Singapore's oldest athlete, it's always inevitable.
"I played my first SEA Games in 2001 and that was 14 years ago. What I should be happy about is being able to stay on with the team for this long, and offer my services whenever necessary.
"Besides, petanque is a sport traditionally played by the older generations and, furthermore, it isn't physically taxing. So that helps a little."
Joining her in competition at the Padang will be Cheng Zhi Ming, 21, Goh Wee Teck, 25, and Nur Izzati Ismail, 20.
Interestingly, the three of them were Heo's former students over a decade ago at Greenridge Primary. As one would have already guessed, she is the reason behind their involvement in petanque.
Back then, she introduced the sport to them after school hours, explaining the nuts and bolts behind it and, eventually, training them until they were good enough to make it to the national team.
Goh said: "Vicki is a very important person to me. She might be a teammate, but she is very experienced and is very much a coach and mentor at the same time.
"She introduced the sport to me when I was only 12 and she's taught me a lot, not just about the sport, but also about life. I'm really happy to be competing with someone like her."
With good showings at recent tournaments such as last year's Asian Beach Games in Phuket, where the Republic won a clutch of medals, the team are hoping for a good showing at the SEA Games.
At least one gold medal out of the 10 on offer is on the radar and the outlook can be considered optimistic when compared to the sport's recent history in Singapore.
Heo's 2007 bronze remains the Republic's last podium finish. Things hit rock bottom in 2013 when a lack of finances prevented the Singapore petanque players from participating in that year's Games in Myanmar. The scarcity of funding and support almost forced Sports Boules Singapore, the sport's governing body, to close down but, now, things are looking up again.
"I went through the highs and the recent lows and I'm still here," said Heo. "In 2011, the previous time Singapore sent a petanque team to the SEA Games, only two people, Zhi Ming and I, made the trip to Indonesia.
"And we competed in only one event, which was the shooting event. But, this time round, we have a team of nine players. We now have team uniforms, and we train almost everyday.
"That is why, in view of all the support that we've been given lately, I really hope to do my best and I'm sure the rest of the team do as well.
Her target? A medal.
"I'll be competing in four events - women's shooting, singles, doubles and triples," said Heo.
"A medal of any kind would be enough for me.
"I don't know yet if I'll compete in another SEA Games. So, right now, that would make the perfect 50th birthday present for both Singapore and myself."