1) How has gymnastics played a role in your life?
At the start, it was like a parent to me as it taught me how to make friends because I trained with a lot of people. I learnt teamwork as I worked with everyone and we constantly had to help each other out. As it got harder, a lot of obstacles came, and I found that the most important quality I picked up was resilience. I realized that it is okay to fail and that I had to constantly take risks, try new things and never stop trying in order to improve. When you do get injured, the only thing you can do is get back up and continue because even world champions fail so it is completely fine to make mistakes. Gymnastics taught me to face my fears and be accountable for my own mistakes. This sport requires me to do risky skills and half the time, they end up badly, but I taught myself to look at the fun side of things and to learn to cope with the fear through being more self-aware.
2) I’ve heard that you grew up with a humble background, do you mind sharing more about the challenges you had growing up and how you overcame them?
I was born in Indonesia and from what I heard from my parents, I was born in the forest. I don’t remember much from my younger days as I moved over to Singapore when I was very young. The first time I started to understand that I was not as well off as other people was in Primary 1. At competitions, we are required to buy leotards, but the school only pays for the kids in higher primary. Being a Primary 1, my leotard was not subsidized by the school. Eventually, my parents talked it out with the coach and managed to get me one for the competition. Other instances included times when I sustained injuries and had to borrow money and use claims to pay back. My coach helped me a lot as he would let me train for free and competition wise, the association would let me pay by installments, so all this helped make my career as it is today.
3) Given the number of hours you train, how did you manage to juggle between school and gymnastics?
Until today, I do not know how I did that. I trained 4.5 hours 6 days a week with Sundays off while studying. It taught me how to negotiate with adults. From primary school, my teachers told me that if I did my own work, I would be fine for exams and I guess I just continued with that style of work ethic. From Secondary 1 to IB 4, because I extended 2 years, it was mainly about managing my time well. On a lot of occasions, I would tell my teachers I have training and get an extension for my homework. Since I train Monday to Saturday, Saturday night to Monday morning was homework period for me. When I was preparing for exams, I would then have to negotiate with my coach to make up for the hours I missed since every training session is important. It always depended on the situation I was in and how I worked with what I had. I would have a weekly to-do list to keep myself in check for my studies and sport.
4) Can you tell me more about why you think you are awarded the Harvard Prize Book?
The prize is mainly to recognize altruism. I started gym at 3 years old and learnt how to make friends and work with people. This molded me into a nice guy as I tried to make good vibes with everyone and avoided conflict. I guess the teachers recognized that I could work well with others and that I care for other people. I also think I got it for the way I conduct myself on a daily basis. Everyone would have done service learning and would be recognized for this award, but I think what made me stand out was that people around me, particularly my juniors, really liked me. Sport can bring you down emotionally as there will be bad days so I try to empathize with others by joking around with them to make their life easier.
5) What inspired you to volunteer at St Luke’s Hospital?
First of all, my dad works there. Because I stay in school, I don’t see my parents much as we were always busy and had our own lives. There was a point in time where my focus was not on gym and instead, I wanted to do something else. Knowing that my dad works there, I wanted to go there and find out more about what he does as a nurse.
Second, because I volunteered at Sunlove Home before, I saw that the elderly were lonely as their family would not visit them. I could empathize with them as I usually go and return from training alone. It was always difficult when you had a bad day and was alone, so I could not imagine how much harder it would be at a hospital. When I first volunteered, I would just talk and play with them. This then progressed to doing art activities and ward visitations to see how others were doing. I can’t speak for the elderly, but it looked like they appreciated what I did. I am happy that my presence there could help someone feel less lonely even if it were only for a short time.
6) What does thriving mean to you?
It means living life to the fullest. Being able to have my own things, my own life and just being able to call them my own makes me proud. I may not be the richest guy in the world, but I would want someplace I can call home and be around people I love. I want to be proud of the life I have built and to be with the friends and family I love as having things I find important in life helps me to thrive not just survive.