Cambodia 2023: Golden Mother's Day gift from fencer Elle Koh to mother Juliana Seow
By Philip Goh
Mother’s Day will always be a special occasion for the Koh fencing household in Singapore because in consecutive editions, daughter Elle has provided a perfect gift for her mother Juliana Seow – that of a gold medal from the Southeast Asian Games.
Elle won her breakthrough gold last year in Hanoi. Photo/Juliana Seow
Last year, just two days before Mother’s Day on 13 May, Elle found herself on the top step of the podium after defeating teammate Kiria Tikanah Abdul Rahman for the gold at the Hanoi SEA Games.
This year, again on 13 May and this time on the eve of Mother’s Day, Elle yet again won the same event, this time at the Cambodian SEA Games, defeating Vietnam’s Vu Thi Hong.
In many ways, fencing has always been a family affair. After all, Seow, who turns 51 next week, and her husband Henry Koh, 48, founded the Blade Fencing Club, and Seow has since 2013 helmed Fencing Singapore (FS), the national sports association for fencing in Singapore.
The sport has gone from strength to strength during her Presidency: from two gold medals in the 2017 Games in Kuala Lumpur through Amita Berthier in foil and Lau Ywen in sabre, to four gold medals at the 2019 Games in the Philippines, to six gold medals in Hanoi last year. Now the sport is on the cusp of a new record haul, with five out of the six individual gold medals in the bag and four more team events to come.
Elle with mom Juliana and dad Henry who would become her coach. Photo/Juliana Seow
And it must be extremely pleasing to Seow to have daughter Elle now among the medal winners, considering she had to miss the 2007 SEA Games in Korat which Seow had qualified for.
“Henry and I decided to have Elle in December 2006,” Seow recalls. “It was a decision made, knowing that if there was a team chosen for Korat 2007, I would not be making it for the team.
“But I did not regret that decision as I came back to fencing after giving birth to Elle, and represented Singapore in the 2009 World Championships in Turkey.”
Seow was also Chef de Mission for Team Singapore to the 2019 Games in the Philippines during which Fencing crested new heights at the time.
Speaking of the continually improving results, she says: ”As FS president, I am happy to see any fencer in any weapon type achieve the best result they can. It is important that they remember the passion while they fight their best to represent Singapore.”
Mother and daughter have always been close. Photo/Juliana Seow
But it was never her intention to have her daughter following in her footsteps.
“Having been brought up around fencers, it was natural for Elle to pick up fencing,” she says. “In her younger years, we encouraged her to try other sports including gymnastics, shooting, running etc. She had been taught from a young age to decide and talk through what she wants to specialise in.”
Elle, though, has a different recollection.
“I got into fencing at four because my parents run a fencing club and brought me into fencing thinking it would be a good hobby for my physical fitness and mental toughness,” she says. “Mom is very supportive and loving and I am grateful for her.”
As for her consecutive Mother’s Day wins, Elle says: “I was in awe when I won last year, I really didn't expect to win and at that time I was only aiming for a medal.
“What came more of a surprise was also that I beat Kiria because she is my teammate and an extremely tough opponent, and last year was my first time beating her in a competition.
“I would describe my journey in fencing so far as very fortunate. I started from very young and have gotten many opportunities that I’m grateful for.”
As for her win this time, Elle felt surprised as she was extremely nervous while acutely aware she is carrying an injury.
“Also the fact that I had to fence Kiria in the semi-finals where I wasn't sure I could win. I am glad I could make my mom proud on the eve of Mother’s Day by trying my best.”
An enduring bond between mother and child. Photo/Juliana Seow
Mother’s Day in the household is usually celebrated with a meal at home with Seow’s mother, Phyllis Teh, the older folks and daughters Elle, 15, and Summer, 10.
For her, Elle’s wins are her own and her coach’s, which just so happens to be her father Henry.
“I help to facilitate things for her because she has chosen this path for herself. I am happy to see Elle achieve what she wants as she has worked hard," says Seow.
“I am her mother and her friend. I have to balance between guiding her and letting her make her own decisions in life.”
A mother and a friend - Juliana Seow with her daughter Elle. Photo/Juliana Seow
As for Elle, she’s glad to be able to celebrate Mother's Day with her mom in Cambodia.
“I’ll definitely hug her and I feel lucky to be able to with her on a happy Mother’s Day and to be able to spend some time with her,” she says.
The 32nd SEA Games are held in Cambodia from 5 to 17 May 2023. For the latest Team Singapore coverage and news, follow Team Singapore on their social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok) or visit the official Team Singapore website.