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Older and bolder: More seniors taking up adventure sports to keep fit

Sue-Ann Tan on 03 Sep 2017

The Straits Times


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Older people are taking up BMX biking, inline skating and longboarding to keep fit and build a sense of community.



A decade ago, Nanyang Technological University don Jacob Gan was invited by his students to join their adventure sports activities. Fast forward to today and the 67-year-old counts trekking to the Mount Everest base camp and Mount Kilimanjaro among his achievements.


Mr Lawrence Koh, 40, chief executive of indoor skydiving complex iFly Singapore, said that over the last six years, the number of older people in skydiving has increased by 10 per cent.


And Dr Reginald Teo, 56, a dental surgeon, said senior participation in sports such as skating and diving has gone up by 20 per cent over the last decade.


The former ice-skating judge took up scuba diving in 1985 and continues to dive today. "I love nature and it's a break from my daily job," he said. "I intend to keep going as long as I can because it keeps me on edge and keeps my senses sharp."


Meanwhile, others such as Mrs Lisel Lee participate in adventure sports for the community of like- minded friends. The 62-year-old takes part in dragon- boating every weekend with her team of breast-cancer survivors called Paddlers in the Pink. She is a survivor herself and took up the sport five years ago to keep fit. About half of the participants are over 50.


"My friends there are very encouraging and supportive," she said. "My health is the best gift to my family, so I want to build my strength."


Enthusiasts said rising affluence and education levels have helped older people to get into more unconventional sports. Ms Peh Kim Choo, director of the Tsao Foundation's Hua Mei Centre for Successful Ageing, added: "This is good news. It shows better health among our elders and an exciting shift in how ageing is experienced."



On weekends, 58-year-old businessman John Cheng destresses by cruising along the streets of Pasir Ris on his four-wheeler - a longboard about 1m in length. It is not a skateboard, he is quick to point out.


His board is longer and sturdier than the conventional skateboard - he can travel a greater distance than when he is on its shorter cousin. He covers a distance of about 50km on the weekend.


"It is just a different experience from other sports like cycling," he said. "Cycling is mostly sitting down and using your legs, while skateboarding involves your whole body. It does wonders in keeping me fit and agile."


Mr Cheng has been longboarding with a group of about five friends - some of whom are also in their 50s - for several years.


Mr Simon Lee, 50, who works as a legal counsel, said he had wanted to pick up snowboarding. In tropical Singapore, longboarding came closest to it. "I enjoy the freedom," he added. "At my age, I don't want to do tricks, but I do this as exercise."


He acknowledged that it is more dangerous when older people fall, which is why safety is of utmost importance.


Mr Alan Wong, 51, learnt that lesson the hard way.


"I used to hate using a helmet," said the IT professional with a laugh. "But once, when my wheel got jammed, I fell off, hit my head and got a small crack on my skull near my eye. Since then, I tell people to buy the helmet even before getting the longboard."


Mr Wong started longboarding about three years ago when his father-in-law bought his son, then 12, a skateboard. While his son soon lost interest in it, the gift reminded Mr Wong of how he used to skateboard as a teenager. "It wasn't difficult to start again," he said.


The longboard also serves as a means of transport for Mr Raymond Tan, 53, head of marketing operations at software company QLIK. Instead of taking the train or bus to work, he longboards from Bedok or Pasir Ris to Suntec City, covering between 14km and 20km. His ride takes about 60 to 90 minutes. "It's like surfing on land," he explained. "It feels so natural. You flow with your board."


Mr Tan wants to encourage other older people to pick up the sport. "I know people in their 60s overseas who skateboard. We just have to do it safely," he said.



For more than 10 years, primary school teacher David Ng watched inline skaters speed past him in East Coast Park, wishing he could skate too.


But he held back. "It's the Asian mentality that after you hit 40, you are over the hill," the inline skating instructor, now 71, said with a laugh.


On the cusp of his 59th birthday, Mr Ng finally decided to change things - by buying himself a pair of inline skates as a birthday gift. He also enrolled in classes at Skateline, an inline skating shop and skate school.


"My instructors kept asking me, 'Uncle, are you sure you want to do this?' " he recalled. He was the oldest in class - other students ranged in age from seven to 20 years old.


After 21/2 years of skating for three or four days a week, Mr Ng reached an advanced level and became an instructor himself.


"People think that when you are old, you should just stick to taiji," he quipped. "My family told me to do something more sedate, but this inline skating is so exhilarating. It makes me feel young again."


He has even inspired some older people to take up inline skating lessons. "It's monkey see, monkey do," he joked. "People tell me they are too old to start skating, but then they see me and they think they can give it a try too."


His fellow instructors are not that young either. In fact, Mr Seet Choon Chuen, 53, taught Mr Ng when he was a beginner.


Mr Seet, who works in sales, started inline skating in 2001 because he wanted to teach his then five-year-old son how to skate.


"It is so fulfilling to teach people and see them from the beginning, when they didn't know safety techniques, till now, when they can skate," he said. "As for Mr Ng, my old student, I feel so proud of him."


Another source of pride for Mr Seet is his son, Jonathan, now a 21-year-old undergraduate - he loves the sport so much, he hopes to join the inline skating club at Nanyang Technological University.


Parent-child bonding was also the reason Mr Philip Chan, 61, who is self-employed, took up the sport 11 years ago. "I couldn't let my seven-year-old skate alone," he said. He finds that the sport does him a world of good too.


"The sense of balance you cultivate while skating is so important when you are old."



When Mr Jumaat Dedik had a mild stroke, instead of resting, he returned to a sport he once loved.


He was about 47 years old then and the health scare was a "knock on the head" for him.


"It was a wake-up call," the now 52-year-old self-employed BMX biker said. He used to take part in local BMX races in 1983 and 1984, but left the sport when he grew out of his teens.


"We are considered granddads now in the sport," he said with a laugh. "I can't race like I used to, but going back to something I love so much reminds me of how I felt when I was 15."


While others take medicine and supplements to combat ill health, Mr Jumaat uses BMX biking to build his health and regain the use of his body.


"I was 85kg before my stroke and now I'm 65kg due to BMX biking," he declared proudly. "It's a great way to train my stamina and legs too. Now I can run up 10 floors of stairs. People go to the gym but I grab my bike instead."


One thing that has changed is that Mr Jumaat has stopped doing tricks and stunts. "They are for the younger generation," he admitted. "I tried and fell a few times, and recovery can now take months instead of weeks."


However, his friend, Mr Nazeer Ibrahim, is still doing wheelies, a trick in which the BMX bike's front wheel goes up in the air and the rider balances on the back wheel.


The 53-year-old truck driver has been doing stunts and tricks since he was 12 and nostalgically remembers the old days when BMX biking was popular.


"Us kids couldn't get big racing bikes, so the BMX was the closest thing," he said.


"It's nice that some people have returned to BMX bikes. It's a way to gather old friends and even their kids join us. It's a great community."


His own daughter, 25-year-old Nur Nasthasia Nadiah, has been BMX biking since she was nine and even competed in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games as a cyclist.


He said: "We pass on this legacy to our children. I hope BMX biking stays alive in Singapore even when I'm no longer in this world."


Keeping the sport alive and well is also Mr Mahmood Ahmad's desire.


The 53-year-old taxi driver also cycled as a teenager but stopped in his 30s. When he was 50, he met Mr Azman Omar, founder of BMX biking community and online store Tuah Enterprise, who brought him back into the sport.


"It was so difficult. I kept trying and forcing myself," he recalled. "People told me cycling is good for... slimming down, so I kept at it."


He hopes that Singapore opens a cycling track for them so they can continue BMX biking.


"I have always loved this sport and it keeps me active as I age. It reminds me of the days when I was a kid and the old friends I made through BMX biking."


He added: "I hope more people see how fun it is and get into it too."


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.


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