Learning > Inspiration

The Lives They Live: Age no big deal for compact strongman

While the pioneer leaders were the original architects of Singapore, everyday heroes helped build society here. This is another story about such a person in the series, The Lives They Live.

Theresa Tan on 19 Oct 2017

The Straits Times


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Mr Ng Bee Kia, 72, may be small in stature, but the former national weightlifter packs a hefty punch in his compact 52kg, 1.52m frame.


Do 100 push-ups at one go? Easy. He does up to 500 push-ups a day.


Perform a headstand? Not a problem (and he can maintain his pose for at least 30 seconds).


Execute a backward somersault while balancing on a set of parallel bars? Yes, can do.


What is more, he picked up the more challenging callisthenics moves, like the headstand and the backward somersault, only in his 60s. Callisthenics are exercises using one's body weight to build muscle, and achieve fitness and grace of movement. The simple steps include push-ups and pull-ups.


Mr Ng was inspired by a fellow callisthenics buff in his late 60s. So, against his wife's wishes, he set his mind to learning the moves.


He said in Mandarin: "My wife made a lot of noise, nagging that I'm no longer a young man. She thinks these exercises are dangerous and she is afraid I would get injured."


The fourth of five children, Mr Ng has always been sporty. In school, he was keen on basketball but he quit school at Secondary 2 and went to work. "I wasn't good at books," he said.


Some time in the 1960s, a colleague at the factory where he worked, Mr Chua Phung Kim, introduced him to competitive weightlifting.


The late Mr Chua was a national weightlifter who had won medals at competitions. He took the gold in 1962 and silver in the 1970 Commonwealth Games.


Mr Ng was curious about the sport and secretly harboured hopes of representing Singapore in overseas competitions.


His inspiration was Mr Tan Howe Liang, who had won a silver medal in the 1960 Olympic Games in the lightweight category for weightlifting.


He said: "I admired him and I hoped to bring glory to Singapore like him."


Mr Ng quickly learnt that weightlifting required more than sheer brute strength. It was also about learning techniques and postures to lift weights far greater than one's body weight.


The sport also offered him a rare chance to travel. His father was a musician in a Teochew opera troupe and his mother a housewife, so there was just no money in the family to go on holidays.


He bagged a silver medal in his first overseas competition, the 1971 South-east Asian Peninsular (Seap) Games, the predecessor of today's South-east Asian (SEA) Games.


That meant a train journey to Kuala Lumpur, his first trip out of Singapore.


Said Mr Ng: "I was so excited. I never thought I could represent Singapore, much less win a medal in the Seap Games."


He went on to participate in other international meets, such as the Commonwealth Games in New Zealand in 1974. It was his first trip on a plane and he came fourth in the flyweight category.


He also won a silver medal in the 1973 Seap Games and a bronze in the 1977 SEA Games.


In 1978, he retired from weightlifting to spend more time with his new bride.


Mr Ng spent more than 30 years working for a tobacco firm, first as a driver and later as cigarette salesman, until he was laid off in 2006.


When he was busy working, exercise took a back seat. But after his retrenchment, he became all pumped up about fitness again. He began brisk walking and doing other exercises at a park near his house.


That was how he met Mr Robert Ho, 47, then a manager at Cheng San Community Club, which is near his house.


Mr Ho, who has a diploma in sports science, said of his first impression of Mr Ng: "He was wearing a tank top so you could see he was very muscular. He had killer calf muscles."


The pair became friends and Mr Ho roped in Mr Ng as a volunteer to teach senior citizens how to lift weights in the gym.


In 2013, a group of seniors in their 60s and 70s who were interested in callisthenics came together to form Team Strong Silvers.


The team members train together at times, put up callisthenics performances and even teach other seniors how to exercise, said Mr Ho, who is the facilitator.


Mr Ho, who now works as a programme executive at a senior activity centre, said: "We felt that seniors doing callisthenics can make people sit up and take notice. When young people see videos (of their performances) on social media, their responses include words like 'salute' and 'respect'."


Indeed, Mr Ng boasts a respectable set of biceps and a body with nary an ounce of fat on it.


When asked if he thinks he is sexy, the grandfather of one little girl said no. But he concedes that his body is a lot more toned than before, given all the exercises he does.


He said: "It is good for us seniors to get together, to learn from one another and to encourage other seniors to exercise.


"If you stay at home and do nothing, everything will go rusty.


"I will train for as long as I can. I wouldn't let age deter me."


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


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