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Passion leads Singaporean athletes to pursue non-mainstream sports

Some Singaporean athletes are pursuing non-mainstream sports such as ultra triathlons, Muay Thai and rowing. With little in the way of conventional rewards, their motivations to succeed come mainly from passion for their sports.

SINGAPORE: Their sports might not enjoy the glory or attention garnered by more popular ones like swimming or football in Singapore.

But that has not deterred some Singaporean athletes, who are pursuing non-mainstream sports such as ultra triathlons, Muay Thai and rowing.

With little in the way of conventional rewards, their motivations to succeed come mainly from passion for their sports.

For Dr Kua Harn Wei, his day job is as an Assistant Professor with the Department of Building at the National University of Singapore.

But once he steps out of his office, he transforms himself into a serious athlete who has literally gone the distance.

Dr Kua holds the record for being the first Asian to complete the "Deca" ultra-triathlon in 2006.

This involves an Ironman triathlon a day for 10 consecutive days, for a total of 38 kilometres of swimming, 1,800km cycling and 422km running or a whopping 10 marathons.

He has also been ranked as high as number 2 in the world in ultra triathlons in 2008), and has held three Asian records over three different distances in ultra triathlon.

The daunting distances aside, these ultra distance races do not feature in major games like the Olympics, and hence attract little monetary rewards or media attention.

And Dr Kua achieved his results while juggling work, training, racing, and commitments as a father of 18-month-old twins.

Dr Kua said: "It's not something I want to do to show anything to anybody but rather to show to myself -- this can be done and a person like me who I consider as not a talented athlete and worse, I even started the sport very late when other other people are swimming when they are three or four years old, that with proper training, proper time management and being passionate enough I can do this thing and I have proven myself."

He has slowed down the pace for now to focus on coaching, but said he intends to return to competition in a few years' time.

While not involving such long distances, the sport of Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, also does not attract much mainstream attention.

The sport is largely male dominated, but this and its bruising nature has not deterred 28-year-old Lena Tan.

The national captain has dedicated more than a decade of her life to the sport.

Ms Tan said: "I suffered injuries. I suffered a cut on my eyes, I suffered big bruises on my hip. I suffered bruises on my leg until I can't walk the next day, that's part and parcel of it. Of course when I come to the age when I realise my body cannot take any more of these beatings, I guess that will be the time for me to retire, but for now I don't think anytime soon."

Her passion drives her to balance her job as a marketing executive with competing in events like the World Championships currently taking place in Malaysia.

And her ambition to succeed saw her cutting weight from her more natural category of 54 kilogrammes to the 51-kg class which requires intense dieting and training to make weight for the competition, in order to gain an edge on smaller opponents.

Such sacrifices are also familiar to national rower Saiyidah Aisyah.

She made waves with her gold medal at the 2013 Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar.

But her victory came at a high price, as she had to pay for a two-and-a-half-month training stint in Australia prior to the competition herself.

Ms Saiyidah said: "Last year's SEA Games was my fourth.The first few SEA Games, I got at most a bronze, so I really wanted a gold medal because people have been saying you cannot get a gold medals, you are training alone. So I like this kind of challenges, I like to prove people wrong, it actually motivated me to want that gold medal even more."

She is currently gearing up for the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore, but her ultimate aim is to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games.

As Singapore's sports scene continues to develop and grow, athletes like Dr Kua, Ms Tan and Ms Saiyidah could soon benefit from greater support from the government or corporate sponsors as they pursue their sporting goals.

But even if they don't, their passion serves as inspiration for other Singaporeans to take the road less travelled and chase their dreams. 

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