How to become a national athlete

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All four of these national-team athletes began training in their minority sports before hitting puberty. Alexandra Karplus gets advice for those starting later

First published on 7 Jun 2010. Updated on 9 Jun 2010.

Jason Yeong-Nathan, 27

This guy’s got balls – ten of them, in fact – and two pairs of lucky bowling shoes. With an average score of 210 and three perfect games to date, Yeong-Nathan has scored strikes in lanes all around the world including Las Vegas, Munich and Paris, and has no plans to change lanes any time soon. ‘I want to bowl for as long as I can. I would love to make a career out of it – earning enough to live comfortably.’

Staying fit: The team of eight guys and ten girls encourage each other to stay in shape. ‘The whole team works out together with light weights and cardio.’ He points out that it’s not all about getting in shape. ‘You need to be strong physically, but you need to be very strong mentally. There are a lot of mental games. We have psychologists to help.’

Why he loves it: ‘The bowling crowd used to be just an older group, but now it’s very young. On our national team, the oldest is 31 and the youngest is 17. When we train we talk to each other and have fun… Sometimes we’ll play a game and the loser will buy dinner.’

How to practise: ‘Try Wii, it’s very similar to real bowling. What you do with your hands in the game is exactly what we do in real life. It’s good, you can really get a hang of it.’

Beware: ‘I had a wrist injury once. I wasn’t sure if it was bowling or weightlifting. People need to be careful because bowling can cause back pain.’

Jasmine Ser, 19

While other 13-year-old girls were making up dance routines and singing along to Britney Spears, Jasmine Ser was focused – air rifle in hand – on learning how to hit her target. Now, after six years on the national team, Ser is confident that this was the right choice. Even her parents agree: ‘They never thought that I would become a shooter one day. Now that I have achieved so much they are very supportive and proud.’

What to wear: The clothing is all designed to improve your stability. ‘The boots are designed differently from normal shoes, they have to have a straight sole so you don’t bend too much. The jacket is also for stability, but there are rules on how stiff you can have it – too much is considered cheating.’ She also sports a purple visor to block off the light.

Who can participate: ‘Unlike a lot of other sport, shooting does not have such a young cut-off. ‘There is a shooter from Kazakhstan – I think she is 44, and a mother of two. Age doesn’t really matter.’

How to train: ‘We do muscle-strengthening exercise. We strengthen our glutes, thigh muscles, biceps and the back muscles. Part of the support for the rifle comes from our back, so the back is very important.’

Words of wisdom: ‘Sometimes you train so much and you don’t realise. It’s very important to remember to relax – if you wait until someone tells you, it can be too late. Do some meditation at home before you sleep.’

Roy Tay Jun Hao, 26 
Terence Koh Seng Kiat, 26

Both Jun Hao and Seng Kiat were roped into competitive sailing by their fathers. Starting their careers in Singapore, they’ve sailed to Sydney in order to take advantage of the high winds. With a combined 34 years in sailing, this duo have their sights set on bringing home a medal from the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

How to start: TKSK: ‘Sailing caters for a wide range of body sizes and fitness levels. You should ask around at your local sailing club and they’ll answer your questions about which class of boat suits you – the last thing you want is to sail a boat that’s too big for you to handle. While sailing at the top end can be relatively expensive, boats can be chartered for a reasonable price. As for training, it’s the same as for most sports – more hours spent equates to you getting better.’

How to practise: RTJH: ‘To be competitive, a lot of sailors start with sailing at weekends and increasing their water-time gradually. Just like any other sports, the more time you spend doing it and practising, the better you’ll get.’

What you’ll need: RTJH: ‘Start sailing with club-provided equipment and only buy your own equipment when you get better and more seriously into the racing side of things… At a recreational level, most of the local sailing clubs and yacht clubs have basic sailing courses where all you have to do is turn up and have fun.’

Career goals: TKSK: ‘My main target is the 2012 Olympics which my partner [Jun Hao] and I are working hard towards. Much depends on how successful our campaign will be and how much desire I have to compete at the world standard.’

This story first appeared as 'A league of their own' in our June 2010 issue.

By Alexandra Karplus
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