By REDintern Colin Tung
Ms Tan Chew Peng receiving her award from President S R Nathan and Dr Balakrishnan. (Photo © Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports)
Ms. Tan Chew Peng, an athletics coach, was one of 57, from an initial 3400 nominations, honoured as Singapore’s Everyday Champions. She is different from the rest of the award winners for one reason — she is my coach.
I was 14 when I started to run competitively in track-and-field and cross-country events. After my first coach left my secondary school track-and-field team, I was left in limbo without a coach.
I had fallen in love with competitive running and I was set on pursuing the sport. As such, when the school decided to do nothing about sourcing for a new coach or even continuing with the team, I was compelled to take matters into my own hands. I talked with the other physical education teachers I knew and asked if they might know a coach I could train under.
As God willed, one of them was friends with Ms. Tan Chew Peng and introduced me to her. She was willing to coach me and the day I met her at MacRitchie Reservoir for my first training session was to be the start of an eventful journey that we shared.
One of the earliest thoughts upon meeting Ms. Tan was, on hindsight, somewhat amusing.
“Does this mean I can now say I have a personal coach?”
“How much will I have to pay for her services? I won’t be able to afford to pay her!”
After the first session, with money never brought up as a topic or an issue, I was secretly glad that I need not pay for pursuing a passion or made to choose between sport and money.
The notion of a personal coach was and still is to me something of a luxury. But as a result of passionate coaches like her who make their services so much more accessible to the countless of athletes who are usually just students, athletes like me have benefitted immensely from their generosity and expertise.
To my juvenile mind at the time, I could not understand how someone could sacrifice time and energy without asking for anything in return. I knew that people work, and work demanded remuneration. That is how the world functions. But Ms. Tan did not make such calculations. She did not live by the standards of the world and to a teenager like me at the time, she was a refreshing model of self-sacrifice who made me understand that money was not something that preoccupied everyone’s life; that there are some who live their lives with greater purpose.
In the same way, she sought to teach me that running was more than winning medals and clocking faster times. At that time, I was a neighbourhood school runner, an underdog by all means, training in my quest to match the seemingly superior steeds from brand-name stables such as the then Chinese High School and Victoria School. I found myself caught up with rankings and achievements.
Ms. Tan was more than just concerned with running fast. To her, we were more than just athletes — we were human beings. She looked beyond rankings, timings and medals and focused on character.
Besides investing her time and energy in me, she invested her emotions. I had my inevitable highs and lows in my sporting exploits and she was unavoidably a passenger on my emotional rollercoaster ride. Often, she would spend time after training sessions to listen to my concerns and share with me her experiences and advice.
A coach, as defined by Cambridge dictionary, is “someone whose job is to teach people to improve at a sport, skill or school subject.” Ms. Tan went beyond the boundaries of what it means to be a coach. She did not just teach me how to run faster and further.
She certainly stretched the meaning of being a coach and has become what is to me, essentially, a ‘life coach’ — one who teaches me more than the sport and helps me to apply the sporting lessons unto life itself.
As Bill Bowerman, co-founder of Nike and legendary Oregon running coach, once said in addressing his team: “Running, one might say, is an absurd past-time, in which we are exhausting ourselves. But if you can find meaning in the type of running that you have to do to stay on this team, chances are you will find meaning in another absurd past-time, Life.”
She also shared with me what was closest to her heart — her faith in God. She helped me to receive the greatest gift for I now understand that, in my runs, where I end, God starts.
I am sure you have your own unique portrait of your coach. So why don’t you say “thank you” today to your own personal Everyday Champion?