Kenneth, after running his final race as a National athlete in the Men’s 4x400m relay at the 2015 SEA Games in front of his home crowd.
From taking his position at the starting line to being at the stadium stands and in committee meetings, Kenneth Khoo recounts the bittersweet moments of his athletic career that have left a lasting impression on his life. The former sea games bronze medalist candidly shares his and his team’s passion for the sport and what keeps them sowing time and resources into giving back to it through their unique ways.
“This sport means a lot to me and I don’t think I can explain it with words. It is a part of me that never really goes away. Even though I had a lot of bittersweet memories in this sport, it has become a part of my identity that has sharpened me and made me a better person. Sports has open lots of opportunities for us and this is our way of giving back.”
Left pic: Kenneth with his teammates and coach Melvin Tan (extreme right) at the 2011 SEA Games where he won a bronze in the Men’s 4x400m relay. Right pic: Kenneth, alongside his partner, Asmah, whom he cites as a source of encouragement and inspiration.
For all the lessons that he learned during his 15 years as a competitive athlete, he also expresses his gratitude for the people who played an integral role in his development as an individual, namely his coach Melvin Tan and partner Asmah Hanim. Despite having retired from competitive track & field, the 40-year-old educator still volunteers some of his time at the track as a training partner and mentor to younger 400m athletes aspiring to compete at major games. In addition to serving as Vice-President of Wings Athletics Club, he continues to represent the club in local meets with his most recent outing at the 52nd Singapore Athletics Inter-club Championships 2022 which saw him clock a 52-second split in 4x400m men’s relay. Alongside his teammates and fellow Wings committee members, Wings managed to bring home their very first historic club title at the event.
Fellow Wings Athletic Club members celebrating their historic title at the 52nd Singapore Athletics Inter-club Championships 2022.
Doing more for the sport
On being asked about the vision that they share as a club, Kenneth attributes their desire to do more for the sport to the shared pride and camaraderie.
“The club started out with a group of young, like-minded individuals who saw a problem in the sport; that people were leaving the sport early. We’re bleeding talent and a lack of good representation. It was with this spirit that Wings was set up to stem this exodus of athletes and to bring them back to the fold. This spirit has not changed and we want to see talents and do our part to help Singapore do well. We pride ourselves as an athlete-centric club but we can always do better because nothing comes for free. This is why we were happy to come on board with this partnership.”
For those that are not aware, AR!SE announced our commitment to dedicate portions of our nett profits to supporting various social causes with the Athlete Support fund being the genesis of our endeavours. (Click here to read more) Since then, we have decided to partner up with Wings Athletics Club as they launch their very own Wings Athletic Club Support Grant 2023 for committed athletes who fulfil the criteria for this programme that would provide them with much-needed support as they strive to qualify for the 2023 SEA Games in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
“We’ve also identified a select group of athletes who are looking to the high performance bubble (where carding and resources are accessible) but are not quite there yet. With this, we hope to identify and graduate them from our system and put them into the national team. With this support, we hope that athletes can use this to push themselves to the next level that will open up more pathways for them to be more self-sufficient.”
Some of the areas that this support scheme looks to supplement would be to enable upcoming athletes to have better access to better nutritional and medical support as they juggle their intense training demands alongside work and school. This would allow them to recover better from their schedules and help them maintain their optimal state of health and well-being.
What was it like being a National athlete in Singapore?
At his peak, Kenneth was training between 8-9 times a week while juggling school and a full-time job as an educator. It meant waking up earlier than most of his peers to complete a workout before heading for school or work before heading back to the track or gym for another session. While missing out on social activities did not prove to be much of a challenge, the ability to stay healthy, injury-free, and adequately recovered for the next training session posed a challenge.
“While each of us had our own battles to fight, complaining about them was not going to help. So, I had to make the best out of my situation. Find the things that I can and cannot change…I cannot change the fact that I have to work (after all, we still need to eat right) but I can plan my work schedule that allows me to be more efficient with my work so that I have time to train every day. Also, I had to revise my expectations along the way but that’s part of the process as with every other plan.”
Kenneth (extreme left) sharing the podium with fellow Wings teammates following their podium finish at the recent 52nd Singapore Athletics Inter-club Championships 2022.
What Kenneth shares about his journey as a competitive athlete in Singapore reflects the reality of many athletes in Singapore today who are looking to break through their glass ceiling to become high-performance athletes. While the road to get there may not be smooth sailing, with one’s desired success never being guaranteed, Kenneth has some lessons to share:
“Sometimes, there is no pot of gold waiting for you at the end of the rainbow. The value is as much in the journey as in the destination. The way you approach the journey is just as important as the eye that you set on the destination. You must be very clear on why you are doing this. It is not an easy life and not what you see on tv (waving the flag and doing the lap of honour) as this is just the tip of the iceberg. Behind that moment are hours and hours of sweat, preparation, hard work, setbacks and setbacks and setbacks. You have to deal with it, take those blows, and keep moving. It has to come from within that even when the whole world is telling you that you cannot make it and you should give up, you will keep pushing on and are not easily held back by external challenges.”
For athletes looking to make a comeback after facing bouts of setbacks, Kenneth relates to their sentiments of discouragement. He had once considered retiring before his official retirement in 2015, which marked the last of multiple SEA Games outings as an athlete. However, he reflects on the significance of experiencing such moments in one’s career as it allows one to genuinely evaluate their motivations for pursuing something:
“I wanted to retire once but eventually made the choice to come back and in doing so, I realised that I was more resolute than I was before because I made that decision to come back rather than have someone dragging me to do so. You cannot simply be motivated by extrinsic reasons (making people happy, not letting people down).”