For those who do not follow the local sporting scene, they may not know that Soh Rui Yong's athletic career reads like something out of a movie.
The 23-year-old competed in his first marathon at the California International Marathon last December, finishing in a time of 2hr 26min 01sec. This was just behind the national record (2:24:22) and two minutes faster than the gold-winning effort of compatriot Mok Ying Ren at the 2013 SEA Games.
It also qualified him for the marathon in this year's SEA Games, which he won in wet and windy conditions.
"For six months, I was focused on this one race. I was really nervous because I had trained up to only 37km and I was supposed to complete 42km. But it all came together on race day," he said.
His journey started 10 years ago when he was drafted into the cross-country team at The Chinese High School (now Hwa Chong Institution) after attending the trials.
"I ran the wrong route and I still finished second - I had to run like 100m extra," he recalled.
That first year was tough.
It was towards the end of the year, after much training, that he started to improve. He won the school's cross-country race.
His breakthrough came in 2008 when he enrolled at Raffles Junior College and met coach Steven Quek.
"He told me that I had a lot of talent, but I was not utilising it properly. He told me that I needed to be focused as an athlete," he said.
His coach got him to sleep more (no more late nights playing video games) and eat better (giving up KFC). He had never finished in the top three at the nationals level, but that year, he would go undefeated in all races.
In 2009, he competed at the ASEAN School Games and won the 2,000m steeplechase.
"I stood on the podium and heard the national anthem playing and it was a great moment; I wanted to come back and do it at the SEA Games," he said.
"Six years later, I have this," he said, placing his gold medal on the table.
His A-level results had earned him a scholarship with Sports Singapore for an undergraduate degree. But he spent only a year at the National University of Singapore before deciding, after an exchange programme, to transfer to the University of Oregon in Eugene.
As he wrote in his blog, runsohfast.com, Eugene is a "Mecca to track athletes and fans". He now trains under American long-distance Olympian Ian Dobson, running six times a week, with only Saturdays off. To prepare for a marathon, he clocks around 160km a week for three weeks, eases to 100km for a week. Then the cycle begins again.
Rui Yong is on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He believes that social media is an important tool for athletes to connect with fans and teammates. It can also lead to sponsorship opportunities.
But it can be a double-edged sword as the negative comments are the ones he tends to remember. He feels that athletes need to be mentally resilient.
"Whatever they say can be used as fuel for your fire - like if they are encouraging you, you don't want to let them down. However, when people think you can't do it, more so you should go out there and prove them wrong."
He graduates in December and is aiming to qualify for next year's Olympics. He needs to knock off at least five minutes from his marathon timing.
This article was first published on June 24, 2015.
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