Age is just a number
This former national dragon boater and national boxer is inspiring others to excel.
BY: Eleanor Yap
Tan Leong Kok, 61, often tells younger ones, “If Uncle can do it, you too can do it.” He has proven that age is no barrier when it comes to dragon boating and hopes he can inspire not only those in their 20s on his team, but also those in their 50s.
The father of three was always into sports when younger. At the age of 19, he heard it was going to be tough going into the Army, so he thought it would be good to turn to sports to increase his fitness level. He tried all kinds of sports including soccer, running and rugby. He also learned that if he could excel in a sport, he could very well represent Singapore on the international stage. But, it wasn’t any of those aforementioned sports that got him the spotlight, it was boxing.
He explained how he got interested in that sport – “In my younger days, I always saw my classmate getting bullied and I wanted to defend him, as well as others. I felt boxing was a good way to do this.” He went on to represent Singapore in boxing from 1979 till 1989 and during that time, he continued to excel. He came home with five silver medals and a bronze one in several SEA Games, as well as a silver medal in the Asian Boxing Championships. He started out in the batanweight class (for boxers who weigh above 52.2 kg and up to 53.5 kg) but because he couldn’t maintain his weight, he switched to the featherweight class which had a weight requirement of 54kg to 57kg.
Hooked on dragon boating
In 1982, he got a distraction. His friend introduced him to yet another sport – dragon boating – and to say the least, he got hooked. “I like the sport a lot.” He got onto the national team in 1985 and went on to compete overseas and did well coming in second in the dragon boat competitions in Germany, Japan and Indonesia. Laughing about all his various sporting commitments, as well as juggling a full-time job working for the Singapore National Printers at that time, he shared, “In one year, I worked only nine months. Before I came into the company, I told them I was a national sportsman. Also, good thing I didn’t have to work shift.” He continued to represent Singapore all the way to 1998.
It was in 1993 when he got introduced to the team he currently belongs to – the Taman Jurong Seahawk. Together, they have gone on to win medals locally and began competing outside of Singapore including in Taiwan. Seven years later, he decided to stop boxing and just focus on one sport, “Boxing is a dangerous sport. I felt it was enough for me and I was getting older.”
Currently in his dragon boat team, Leong Kok, who works as an estimator for Marcono Print Media, is the most seasoned dragon boater and the oldest in the team. There are 21 team members who are 50 and above (there is an estimated figure of 50 dragon boaters in Singapore who are over the age of 50). When not competing, he trains with the team twice a week on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 7.30am to 11am. In their training, there is also a run of about 2.5km or sometimes, 5km, which is no problem for him.
But when competing, which he is currently doing for the DBS Marina Bay Regatta in June, there is an additional regime – an hour’s long fitness training at Yio Chu Kang. In the upcoming race, he will be competing in the Prime Warriors mixed category with team members who are 40 years and above, and a new category for this year – the Community Active Warriors open category – for team members 50 and above. This is not his first time at this event, he has done it now for eight years.
Undeterred by a leg operation from osteoarthritis a year ago, he shares, “If you don’t have interest how to stay for so long, so you must have interest.”
He added: “Age is just a number. It is up to you, whether you want or don’t want. I am not concerned about injury. You got to do what you can, don’t force yourself and get injured. Know your limits and don’t overdo it. If I continue doing this, I would want to do it till I am 80!”