One of the things we’ve admired throughout the pandemic is the resilience and dedication of our healthcare workers. While they are heroes in their own right, putting others before themselves to keep the nation safe, we sometimes forget that they’re also ordinary people like ourselves, with dreams and passions outside of work. Musicians, artists, and fitspos—these healthcare workers are more than just what they do for work.
In the third and final part of our Healthcare Workers series, we spoke to Daryl, a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) medical officer by day and CrossFit enthusiast by night. It was 2PM on a Saturday when we met with Daryl, and despite having just knocked off from an 8-hour shift at the hospital, he looked fresh and ready for an intense CrossFit workout at Mobilus Singapore, the gym he frequents in the outskirts of Chinatown. Amidst the bustle of the gym—packed with back-to-back classes—Daryl brought us through his usual training routine and spoke passionately about his hospital and policy work in fighting the pandemic.
Despite his long hours, Daryl strives to keep himself fit so that he can take care of others. As he shared his story, we got a look at who the doctor and CrossFitter is behind the mask and scrubs.What is a day in your life like?
Currently, I work in inpatient care at a hospital looking after patients who are warded. My hours are usually from 6AM to 6PM, depending on how quickly we see patients. I try to hit the gym three times a week after work.
As a SAF regular, what is it like serving as a medical officer?
I get to work on policy-related and operational-related medical issues revolving Covid-19, such as response measures and training plans to ensure everyone is safe. Earlier this year, I was very fortunate to be on the Army’s multi-ministerial workforce in battling the pandemic. At that time, there was a spike in cases in the dormitories. We focused on clearing the dormitories and making sure they were safe for workers to live in. It was a very eye-opening experience to see how the different ministries worked together to come up with policies.
Why did you choose medicine? Is there an area you would like to specialise in?
When I was young, I just wanted to sign on with the Army (laughs). But my mum told me to do well for my ‘A’ levels so that I had other options. I did well enough, but couldn’t decide what to study. Then, I thought about the different people that had helped me in my academics, and decided I wanted to do something to give back to them. I thought that medicine was the way to go—that’s what sparked my desire to study it.
Specialty-wise, I’m training in internal medicine, which sets the stage for different senior residency tracks in cardiology, respiratory, or gastroenterology. So I have these options later on.
How has the pandemic shifted your perspective on medicine?
I think Covid has shown us what we’re capable of. You don’t really realise how rapidly progressive we can be until we actually do it. If you look back at some of the developments that happened in the past year and a half, like rapid polymerase chain reaction testing, we didn’t even think it was possible to get a test result in 45 minutes. That helps us with rapid detection and very quick contact tracing.
What are some lessons to take away from the pandemic?
Covid has been a growing experience for all of us. We realised that the protocols from SARS and H1N1 just weren’t enough. So a lot of our drawer plans for public health have to evolve. It’s very interesting to see how quickly we responded but to be very honest, I think a part of us is still playing catch up so far. We’re writing the script as we go along.
How did you get into CrossFit?
I played water polo during secondary school and junior college. That was a big part of my life. When the season was over, though, I stopped training and didn’t know what to do next. I still went to the gym but lulled around with a few exercises. Later, I found out that my school’s rugby team started CrossFit so I decided to try it. I found a gym and went for an introductory class, and I’ve been doing it ever since 2013.
Do you have a regular gym? Tell us more about it.
Mobilus Singapore at Chinatown—big shout out to them! Everybody there is like a friend. Even as a new face, people will help you, talk to you, and welcome you. We push each other in training. Because everybody’s just a little bit competitive, it motivates all of us to get better, and we really enjoy the friendship. We meet outside for dinners or drinks. The gym is a nice escape from everything else—when you walk into the gym, it’s like everything else outside shuts off for a while.
Does your medical profession influence your CrossFit training, and vice versa?
Being a doctor, I’m very motivated to keep myself fit because I believe that fitness is the best form of primary prevention from getting sick at all. And there are some rare modifiable risk factors such as obesity and poor cardiovascular health that can be augmented or totally resolved with just exercise. CrossFit trains me to be more driven at work. Having played sports all my life, I’m always motivated to win in competitions or reach certain goals. Goal-setting and goal-getting is something that I carry over to my work.
What are some of your goals in CrossFit training?
Work has taken more of a front seat, but earlier this year, I competed in the CrossFit Open. It’s an international competition held within each country. I always strive to be at the top in Singapore! That’s been my aim each year. I took a break for a while because of school but am back at it.
Is CrossFit for everyone? What would you say to people interested in the exercises/ programme?
CrossFit is definitely for everyone. You just need to take the first step and find a CrossFit gym. Most gyms have introductory classes or ramp-up programmes where you learn the fundamental movements. The beauty of it is that everything is scalable. That’s the biggest selling point about CrossFit. Each movement and workout can be tailored to your fitness level. If you’re doing deadlifts, you don’t have to start with 60kg; you can start with 10kg or 20kg and build up from there.
Can CrossFit exercises be done at home? How do you continue training when gyms are closed?
Absolutely. The second best part about CrossFit is that you can do it anywhere and everywhere. CrossFit is basically strength and conditioning turned into a sport. So any workout that you can think of can be considered as CrossFit. We have a benchmark workout called Cindy: for 20 minutes, you do five pull-ups, 10 push ups and 15 squats for as many rounds as you can. As you can see, there’s very little equipment involved. If you don’t have a pull-up bar, you can swap the exercise for crunches or something else. You can do these workouts by yourself at home. So it’s definitely doable even without a gym.
Aside from CrossFit, are there any other ways that people can keep fit?
Fitness is as easy as stepping out of your door and going for a run or walk, especially for people who are sedentary. Other exercises like yoga, pilates, and barre are huge too. There are so many options now as Singapore evolves into a very fitness-driven culture where a lot of people in their 20s to 30s and even older are joining gyms in order to keep themselves fit in one way or another.
What are some goals you have in the near future?
My biggest focus right now is on my medical training. There’s a lot to learn as we gear up to become specialists in the future. There are also a series of postgraduate exams that I’m studying for. I want to be a much better doctor. A secondary goal is to maintain my base level of fitness which is diminishing. It’s something that I hope to do more of once my work schedule is more stable.
Something that you’re personally trying to be better at:
Patience—as in patience the virtue, not patients (laughs). This is especially evident both at work and at CrossFit. When you’re explaining a medical condition to a patient or explaining a new movement to someone who is new to CrossFit, you need to be patient. For someone who has years of experience, it’s second nature. You know exactly what you’re talking about; you use words that others may not be familiar. I have to sometimes take a step back and remind myself that a lot of these things may be foreign to some people. Patience is something that I need to have whenever I talk to people and not get too riled up if I have to repeat myself a few times. I think that’s one of my weaknesses now.