Back in November, AR!SE announced our partnership with Wings Athletics Club as they launched their very own Wings Athletic Club Support Grant 2023. This grant would be given to club 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.
Credits: Fuad Idris
“It’s been one helluva ride.”
Having vaulted for the past 14 years, you’d be surprised to find out that pole vaulting wasn’t actually the top choice of CCA for Dewey, who had set his sights on soccer after primary school. He spent his formative years of primary school chasing balls and was hoping to continue doing so in secondary school. However, a visit to one of his father’s pole vault training during his holidays opened his mind to a new high. His father was coaching the Nanyang Polytechnic pole vault team then and would ask Dewey to tag along to “play play” as he had just finished his PSLE and had ample time to spare. When it came to choosing a CCA in secondary school, Dewey eventually decided to swing with pole vaulting instead, which would turn out to be a pivotal decision in his life.
“It was really cool and so different from the other sports. That’s really how I got started!”
Dewey (second row, far right), with his teammates and coach, Ng Kean Mun (first row, far right) who is also his father.
Fast forward 14 years later, Dewey now has a SEA Games qualifier mark to his name along with various other medals in his bag. The Raffles Institution alumni had recently cleared a height of 4.80m in 2022’s edition of the All Comers 3, which also meant that he had reached the qualifying mark for the upcoming SEA Games in Phnom Penh. Nonetheless, he has yet to confirm his spot on the Singapore contingent as two other competitors have also reached the qualifying mark, and the three of them must contend for the two available spots.
“This is the first time I’ve qualified for a major games so it’s definitely very exciting. It’s quite encouraging too and has been a huge morale booster as it shows the fruition of my continued efforts. I’m definitely going to give it my best shot!”
The struggle is real
As with all stories, the road has not been a smooth-sailing one, given the numerous injuries and setbacks that he had to deal with. Moreover, he shares that he was never one who was talented at a young age, and the slow progress over the years left him questioning his potential and whether or not he should continue pursuing his dreams. Nonetheless, Dewey decided to take a leap of faith, taking a gap year after university to try and qualify for the 2022 SEA games before heading out into the workforce. But alas, he was hit with injury after injury, which left him unable to practice his long approach runs, and resulted in a corresponding drop in his competition performances. Some of these injuries had also seen him out of action for months at a time, with a popliteal injury leaving him unable to train properly for over 5 months, bugging him even to this day. Sadly to say, this leap of faith did not pay off.
“Frustration… As a pole vaulter, all you want to do is fly higher. If you’re not getting the results you were aiming for because of injuries, you get very frustrated. It's like your wings are being clipped. With each injury, it sets you back so much. You always do your best not to get injured, but it always comes unexpectedly. Over the years you learn what your body can and cannot do, but it is a slow and painful process. Sports trains you to be patient. You wanna jump higher but at the same time, you need to know your limits. And only through testing are you able to know your limits.”
To learn, unlearn, and relearn
However, this was not enough as he had been set too far back by the precious time lost over the months. After failing to qualify for the games, he found a job and was ready to put aside his pole vaulting dreams, planning only to do it as a hobby. Unexpectedly though, stepping back actually allowed him to perform better. Taking a step back meant taking the pressure off, allowing him to train at his own pace. He learned to listen to his body more, instead of always pushing his body to the limits in preparation for the next competition. Tapping on his experience, Dewey knew that longer runups would cause his injury to act up, which led him to be more progressive with his runup this time round, moving up only when his body was ready. This paradigm shift in training philosophy turned out to be extremely beneficial to his performance and played a key role in allowing him to meet the 2023 SEA Games qualifying mark.
Dewey, focused in warming up during one of his competitions. (Credits: Joel Phua)
“Previously when I got injured, I would back off completely, thinking that with adequate rest, my body would heal itself. I was naive back then, and I wished I had learned to ask for help sooner. I realised that there was more that I needed to do, and I finally decided to seek help. After seeing a physio, my pain actually started to go away, and I was able to return back to training as before. I was amazed at what a good physio could do, but more importantly, I was over the moon.”
One other crucial factor that Dewey attributes his recent milestone achievement to is the fervent support of his inner circle of family and friends. His father, Ng Kean Mun, a former National athlete himself who once held the Pole Vault national record, and bagged 2 SEA Games medals for Singapore, understands the time and effort required to train for major games, never rushing Dewey out into the working world to get a job. Whereas, his teammate and former national athlete, Asmah Hanim, has always been the voice of encouragement that has kept him grounded especially during moments when he expressed doubts throughout his journey.
Left pic: Ng Kean Mun and fellow compatriot, Chan Chin Wah, winning double bronzes for Singapore at the 1985 Bangkok SEA Games. Right pic: Dewey, left, with his coach/dad posing for a mid-workout shot.
“I used to think that showing up for training was enough, and for the longest period of time, that’s what I did. After a while, I realised that there was actually a lot more that I could do, and through that realisation, I began to develop a stronger sense of purpose for my training. It led me to be more analytical and critical of myself, and I began to explore techniques and methodologies which were out of my comfort zone. The past year has been a year of exploration for me where I was trying to optimise my sessions and the results of what I’m able to do while managing my injuries.”
While the current Defects Analysis engineer at Micron still wishes that he did not have to sustain that many injuries during his gap year, he agrees that the whole experience has contributed to him becoming wiser in gauging his limits, especially now that he has to manage his work commitments too. Energy and time have become scarce resources, and he has had to cut back on many activities and implement certain routines to ensure that he can give his best at training and competitions.
“Striking a delicate balance between rest and training was crucial for me. There are days when work can be very draining, and I am completely spent. I had to learn how to adjust my workout load and intensity so that I don’t overexert and get injured again. Also, my workplace is pretty far from KPT, so I have to take Grab if I would like to make it in time to jump. This turned out to be beneficial though, as it gave me the opportunity to have an uninterrupted 40 mins power nap before training, which tremendously helped with my consistency. I now even try to do this whenever I have competitions, although it isn’t exactly easy to nap on demand. It's a work in progress.”
Learning never stops
Dewey’s story represents a majority of working Singaporean athletes who, given the circumstances that they face, require them to juggle between both work and training commitments. However, he attributes many valuable life lessons that he has learned to his experiences on this path, particularly teachability and tenacity. Through the setbacks and many failures, he understood the importance of self-reflection and listening intently to feedback while reminding himself of his “why” every time he feels like hanging up his spikes during challenging times. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the remarkable friends he met along the way, which he is eternally thankful for.
Dewey, gearing up on the runway as he makes an attempt. (Credits: Joel Phua)
“If there is one piece of advice I have, it would be to just try, be it in sports or in life (prudently ofc). As one of my good friends would say, trying is free. You will never know what you like/don't like, what works/doesn't work, and what your limits are till you try. I grew up in a place where I was scared of trying because I was afraid of failing, and I hope that you wouldn’t too. Trying bestows you with the chance to learn and reflect, especially because everyone is different- what works for someone else might not work for you. Find what works for you, and use it to the fullest.”