Tailored suit, Shirt from Benjamin Barker, Shoes from Carmina.
Being a national athlete might come with its fair share of recognition and glory, but Calvin quietly dispels any common misconceptions people usually have. There’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes, as we came to learn, and these days, when Calvin isn’t racing down the track, he’s tracking down personal mobility devices as part of his day job for Neuron Mobility, an e-scooter sharing company. In his spare time, Calvin’s also served as the community partnerships director of The Shiok Collective, which shares feel-good stories in Singapore and organises events for a purpose, and participates in runs that support causes close to his heart. When it comes to life in the fast lane, whether athletically or professionally, Calvin believes in journeying well, and that means surrounding himself with people that care, and finding contentment in life. We spent some time with him at Oasia Residence, Singapore to find out why he pushes himself to do what he does.
You’re a national athlete—what do you enjoy about running, and when/why did you start pursuing it on a competitive level?
As a kid I was always outdoors, running around, playing Block Catching. At home I couldn’t sit still; there were times I kept breaking glasses or furniture, so my mum told me I could only run while I was downstairs. That gave me an opportunity to have no limits. When I went to primary school I was naturally very fidgety. There were those school sports days so I represented my class, and eventually, I won. That got me addicted to sprinting. The sound of the gun, the rush of adrenaline, the feeling of being in front—that pushed me to pursue it. I’ve been running competitively since I was 9 years old.
What are some common misconceptions that people might have about being a national athlete?
That we have more privileges than our peers, such as sponsorships and publicity. But what people often don’t realise is that all these things take hard work. Even from a young age, when our friends just have to attend school, we have to segment our day into studying and training, and we try to do just as well academically. There’s a misconception that we’re only good at one thing.
What has sports taught you?
People often say that playing sports develops character, but I think it reveals your character, especially when you’re put through tests. Perseverance when you’re injured, for example, and overcoming that, but most people only see the triumph. So I would say that sports has taught me mental, physical, and emotional training.
In your opinion, what are the benefits of exercise?
If you look at the physiological perspective, which is what I studied in my Sports Science Management course, it definitely gives you better blood circulation, and your muscles can take more load and stress. When people feel stressed, a lot of times it’s because their body isn’t conditioned to push to a certain limit. Even if it’s mental exertion, you need a certain amount of conditioning to push your body to the limit. That’s done either through exercise, or mental training.
You’re also the co-founder of The Shiok Collective—you previously organised quite a number of events such as ‘Flowers for a Purpose’ and ‘Fit for a Purpose’. Tell us about that, and how did all that start?
We founded The Shiok Collective in 2012, and we wanted to bring the ‘kampong’ spirit back. We started an online portal to cover stories about people, places, and things, but we wanted to do things with a twist, like organising events with a purpose. For example, there was L’Eclair, a pop-up store selling eclairs but they wanted a permanent physical store that people could visit. We partnered with Artistry and Flowers for a Purpose to sell flowers, to combine their pastries with a physical space, a purpose—to donate to a charity—and a location.
Of all the events that you’ve previously organised, what’s one of your most memorable? Or an encounter that made it memorable?
Probably Nails for a Purpose. We organised an event where people could purchase a ticket and receive a manicure or pedicure, and the proceeds would go towards supporting a group of single mothers. I decided to get one too, and that actually changed my perspective on manicures and pedicures being exclusively for women. That left an impression on me, because if I hadn’t been involved in organising the event it’s something that I never would have encountered or been exposed to. Creating opportunities is more important than running for a cause, but without a purpose.
How did you get into running for different causes?
I think the interesting thing about sports is that it blends communities and people together. Actually, because I’m a sprinter, the furthest distance I can go is 400m; I’m actually not comfortable doing anything further than that. Each time I do run for a longer distance, it’s for a purpose, like Race Against Cancer or Run For Oceans, which were 5km each. I think it’s nice to know that there are other people who run not just competitively, but as a community, for a cause. Aside from promoting a healthy lifestyle, I think that’s what matters. Just sign up, put on your shoes, and run together. That’s how I got into it.
What’s a cause that you personally feel strongly for?
I’d say it’s the Race Against Cancer, which is organised by the Singapore Cancer Society. My grandma passed away from cancer when I was 10, and that was the first death in the family that I’d experienced, so seeing how devastated my grandpa and parents were had a big impact on me. But the runs celebrate the lives of your loved ones, instead of focusing on the sad moments, so it’s something I try to support every year. It’s an expression of love, by contributing and joining people up and sharing stories.
What inspires you to do what you do?
I would say there’s actually a shift in my focus. As a competitive athlete, your focus is just to be the best, and anything else that comes your way might not be as important at the time. But now that I’ve stopped running competitively, I want to find a purpose in what I’m doing. Running for causes helps me to focus not just on myself, and to contribute to something greater. A lot of times we carry along with our own lives and forget about the rest of the world, or what’s happening. Take the recent earthquakes and tsunami in Indonesia, for example, which killed and displaced thousands of people. How many of us actually realise that these are people nearby, and that we actually do care?
How has someone cared for you recently?
I’d say my family has been a constant in my life, especially my mum. She’s always there to help me in all kinds of things, whenever I can’t find something or need to buy something—she’s always the first to offer her help. It might seem like we don’t appreciate the things she does, but I know it’s all done out of love.
How do you journey well through life?
I think the emotional aspect is the most important. When your heart is in the right place, then your mind will tell you to do it, and I think journeying well is about that: feeling good, and knowing why you feel good, then doing something that makes you feel good. For me that’s what I’ve been using to help in my daily life as well.
What is wellness to you?
Having a balanced lifestyle. I always believe in moderation. A phrase I was taught when I was young is that “your energy in must be equal to your energy out” to at least maintain a healthy lifestyle.
What’s your favourite thing to do to refresh yourself?
Definitely to head to the gym, and to lift weights. Every time I lift weights I feel a sense of satisfaction, especially when I can lift a heavy weight, and fast. As a sprinter I like to do things that can create that force of power, and the gym is the only way you can really exert it in a controlled environment. It’s quite counterintuitive, but relaxation for me is all about pushing myself.
What do you think journeying well with others entails?
I think it’s to be present. I realised that when I was growing up I was always away from home, be it because I was in boarding school, or travelling. During my formative years I was pretty much living independently, but I think what I could have done more was to be more present with my family and other peoples’ lives. It’s a tradeoff; as a competitive athlete, you sacrifice a lot of social time with your friends and even family. In hindsight, that’s one thing that was important to me that was lacking—the physical presence of my loved ones.
What are some ways you recharge through exercise?
The recharge comes after the exertion, but if you’re talking about recharge I actually like going for massages or a spa, just to really relax. That’s my way of recharging.
What is a fitness or wellness tip you’d share with everyone?
One fitness tip is to work out not for the sake of losing weight, or to be stronger, but because you want to enjoy the process of it. I would say training or exercise is not enjoyable to most people, because it’s really about pushing your limits. But to me, the only way to reach your goal is to push your body beyond what it can initially take. I strongly encourage more mental wellness and to have a balanced life. Enjoying life and not missing moments is also a form of wellness to me. I have seen so many people who just forge their way through to do what they want to do, but I think that wellness is to be contented with what we have in life.
They say that food is fuel. What’s your go-to meal to eat when you need some comfort, or your favourite post-workout meal?
I usually eat food based on the energy requirements that I need for the day. If I’m going to train, I’d take more carbohydrates a few hours before, because carbs give you the best energy. For post-training I usually take more protein-based foods. In Singapore it’s hard to find clean cuisine, or it can be very expensive. Taste is secondary, but I actually have quite a sweet tooth so I like to eat many different kinds of food. For me, as long as my body gets the nutrients it needs, then that’s the most important.
How do you stay fit, even when you’re on the go?
I think the Adidas Runners have helped me a lot. Last month I was in Jakarta, Indonesia, so I just contacted the local Adidas Runners and joined them for a run. Things like that help me to join in the community as well. Other than that, I really like to walk a lot—I can cover about 20 to 30km a day when shopping or sightseeing. That’s much more than my usual, and that’s how I feel that I’m still keeping fit.
When you pick a place to stay in when you travel, what are some things you look out for?
Location-wise, it depends on the type of travel, whether it’s for business or leisure. I’d look out for a place that has amenities like grocery stores or a Fitness First gym nearby, because I’m a member. Amenities like the hotel gym or swimming pool are also plus points for me.
Some of your favourite comfort foods:
If I’m away for a long time, one of my favourite Singaporean foods is mutton soup. It’s a bit heaty, I know, but it’s a taste that I can’t find anywhere else in the world—especially the ones in Bedok Market, or Changi Village. Local delights like beef noodles or chicken rice, too.
What’s the one thing you think you should be doing more of, or that you wish you had more time to be doing?
Travelling, because I love seeing new places. Back when I was competing, I’d be going somewhere every three weeks or a month and getting to see the world is something I miss. I’d like to see more of Southeast Asia, and take photos as a way to record the places I’ve been to.
If you could trade lives with anyone in the world for just a day, who would it be and why?
It’s not something I’ve thought about. I’ve really enjoyed the decisions I’ve made in life, and a lot of things that I’ve done have let me experience things outside the norm.
This is a Shentonista project for Oasia Residence, Singapore, in celebration of its 2nd birthday.