Next year’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Singapore will decide the fate of Edmund Sim’s racewalking career.
The 30-year-old human resources manager has faced nothing but one challenge after another since he started racewalking in secondary school.
“I’ve been racewalking for about 18 years now and I’ve sacrificed a lot for the sport. I had to deal with public shaming, depend on my own finances for training, gear and competitions, face disagreements with officials over qualifying marks to compete in regional meets and also compromise on my social life because I train 12 times a week,” he explained.
Sim was introduced to racewalking by his teacher in secondary school. Photo: Cheryl Tay
As Singapore’s top racewalker, Sim said: “My goal is to qualify and do well for the 2015 SEA Games. That will be my first and probably last Games.”
What is racewalking, you may ask. It is not simply just walking as fast as you can. The rules restrict your movement and require you to lock the advancing leg and have one foot on the ground at all times. As a result, you have to sway your hips as you move.
Sim has had to put up with strange stares, criticisms such as being called “ah gua” (Hokkien for an effeminate man) and bapok (Malay for transvestite), as well being pranked by children who intentionally trip him and pull down his shorts while training at a stadium.
“In the past, I would get very upset and argue with them, but I have come to a point where I don’t care what others say. I just go about doing my thing and not care about what others say. They will never get it,” he said with a shrug.
ALTERNATIVE TO RUNNING
He was introduced to racewalking by his teacher in secondary school because he disliked running. “I just really like racewalking; I don’t really enjoy running as it doesn’t give me the same level of satisfaction and I can’t find the same kind of contentment in other sports,” he said.
And Sim does have the talent for it.
His personal bests for racewalking are 21 minutes 50 seconds for 5km, 45 minutes 55 seconds for 10km, one hour and 36 minutes for 20km, and five hours and 18 minutes for 50km. These are respectable timings even for running.
His timings for the 10km and 20km are national records too.
The road has been tough and Sim nearly gave up twice.
“When my dad passed away in 2005, I stopped for two years,” he recalled. “I had just come out of army then.”
He wanted to leave the sport but his friends encouraged him to fulfil his SEA Games dream, so he returned to it in 2007.
He has forked out nearly S$60,000 so far, and it is “hard to get support for this sport”, so his sponsorship requests have been rejected.
The money has gone significantly into shoes, which wears out quickly because of the required contact he makes with the ground. Each year, he goes through at least five pairs of shoes.
He also invested in high-level training camps such as one in South Africa last January. He did not qualify for last year’s SEA Games.
He was at a 20km racewalking competition in Japan in 2013 and was just 50m from the finish line when he was disqualified.
“I was two minutes under the qualifying time for the SEA Games and it was all going good, but I got disqualified In racewalking, the rules are very strict and in the 100 over races I have competed in, I’ve been disqualified about five times,” he said dejectedly.
ONE LAST SHOT
Sim covers up to 150km a week while training. Photo: Cheryl Tay
Admittedly, he nearly threw in the towel then, but he finally decided he would give it one more try since the Games will be held on home ground.
He is unlikely to quit his fulltime job in preparation for it though.
“Singapore is still a very career-driven and academic society. I still need to make ends meet and I feel it is not practical for me to leave my job to pursue this sport full-time. Hopefully in the future, the sport of racewalking will gain more prominence and others may consider becoming a fulltime racewalking athlete,” he added.
Even though he is not a fulltime athlete, Sim’s training schedule is challenging. The 12 times he trains a week easily cover up to 150km, consisting of sessions in the morning before work and in the evening after work, as well as on weekends.
In addition to walking, he also hits the gym and pool for cross-training.
“I hope I’ll make it for the SEA Games held here in Singapore next year. That will be my first and possibly last Games, before I retire from the sport.”
Cheryl Tay first established herself in the world of cars and motorsports. A female in a male-dominated world, Cheryl is one of the few female motoring journalists in Singapore and writes for prominent titles locally and internationally. She is also a huge fitness freak and enjoys working out as much as she does writing about fitness. More of her at www.cheryltay.sg or @cheryltay11 on Instagram.