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raising the bar

Raising the bar

How a female pole vaulter has broken barriers

Alongside her role at Capgemini, Rachel Yang is a record-breaking pole vaulter. Here, she explains how a sporting mindset has benefited her professional career

When it comes to colleagues at work having hidden talents, Rachel Yang literally sets the bar high.

In her professional life at Capgemini, she is a Salesforce consultant, but outside of the office she competes as a pole vaulter – one who has smashed records, broken boundaries, and won medals at major sporting championships.

Rachel is currently on assignment for Capgemini in Montreal, Canada.

“It is my first overseas posting and I love it. It’s a very diverse and artistic city, and I’ve already met people from many different cultures here,” she says.

Starting work in a new country can be a daunting prospect, but Rachel’s sporting life has undoubtedly helped prepare her to face new – and perhaps scary – challenges.

“I’d be lying if I said pole vaulting isn’t scary,” she laughs. “The pole could snap. You could fall out of the net. The only thing to do is focus on your technique. Focus on the process and not the outcome.”

Breaking boundaries

Rachel’s sporting achievements are considerable. Women have only been able to compete in the pole vault event at the Olympic Games since Sydney 2000. Rachel’s career in the sport started six years later, when she was 23.

Even then, people were throwing obstacles in her path. “I was told that I was too old to compete seriously because most athletes have taken up the sport by the time they are 17,” she says.

Her initial attempts were hardly encouraging. “During my very first training session, I tore the anterior cruciate ligament in my knee. The doctor told me I needed surgery and that I wouldn’t compete again, but six months later I was back in training.”

By 2006, Rachel was the only competitive female pole vaulter in Singapore. She then won a silver medal at the Asian Athletics Championship in Jordan in 2007, and a bronze at the Asian Indoor Games in the same year.

In 2009, Rachel suffered a spinal injury that threatened to cut short her career. But with the support of her family and team, she came back again to break her own previous national record and became the first Singaporean to qualify for the pole vault at the Asian Games.

Mentality of motivation

Overcoming challenges and setbacks are qualities Rachel brings to her work as a Salesforce consultant with Capgemini. “Ultimately, I approach every roadblock with the assumption that there is a solution; we just haven’t found it yet. In that sense, the worlds of sport and Capgemini are connected,” she says.

“With Capgemini, if I’m dealing with difficult situations, I don’t give up. I keep searching for a solution. Sport has shown me how that’s possible. It’s a mindset I bring to everything at work – from my email responses to my approach to meetings. I think it’s true that when you demonstrate your mindset in all these small ways, they can add up to something much larger.”

This isn’t the only approach she’s learned from sport. “We’re taught to visualize the whole process,” she explains. “That’s how I was able to come back from injury. That’s how I’m able to do the jumps: I imagine each stage clearly then execute it as well as possible. It’s an approach that really helps when working on projects with Capgemini.”

“My colleagues sometimes comment that my fighting spirit – my resilience and determination – is a real asset to the team. With all the training and pressure I’ve been through in my life as an athlete, I think it gives me an edge.”

Reaching new heights

Rachel retired from competition in 2012, married her coach, and celebrated the birth of their first child a year later. For many female athletes, this might have represented the conclusion of an already successful career – but Rachel is not most people.

She emerged from retirement in 2015 to win a silver medal (Singapore’s first) at the 28th Southeast Asian Games with a new national record of 3.90m.

“At the time, I was studying for an MBA, working full-time, and looking after a two-year-old child,” she says. “I really relied on the support of my family and colleagues to get through it.

People at Capgemini have really supported my sporting endeavors.”

At the age of 41, Rachel has no plans to stop jumping, training for the 2023 Asian Games and proud to be the oldest athlete in the Singapore national team. “When I won a medal at the Southeast Asian Games in 2015, I brought my son onto the podium next to me for the photograph,” she says. “This sums up my approach to life. It’s what breaking barriers is all about: overcoming other people’s perceptions of what you can achieve – whether that’s in sport or in your professional career.”

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