The comeback kid, at 79

The comeback kid, at 79
(From left) Elvin Chang and Ching Teng Soon, then 66, who took part in the heavyweight category of the National Bodybuilding Championships 2002.

Like anyone approaching his or her 80th birthday, Mr Ching Teng Soon has grand plans for a major celebration. There will, of course, be a nice dinner with his family.

Get-togethers with old friends are a must. But what really excites the 79-year-old grandfather is the audacious birthday challenge he has set for himself: to take part in the Singapore national bodybuilding championship one last time.

The former national bodybuilder, who won multiple awards in Singapore and abroad in his 20s, had already set a record of sorts in 2002 when he entered the same competition at age 66.

That made him the oldest bodybuilder to have entered the national championship. But Mr Ching, who is married with three children in their 40s and has four grandchildren aged nine to 14, feels he has one last competition in him

He has been exercising six times a week and plans to step up his training in the coming months, with an eye to breaking his own record next year.

"I want to send a positive message. What's the point of training aimlessly? I want to have a go at it," he told me earlier this month, when we met for the first time in 12 years.

We last met in April 2002, when I spent three weeks documenting his return to competitive bodybuilding after a 32-year break. Mr Ching retired from the sport when he was 35, as married life and work demanded more of his time.

But he never stopped training. "If you are an athlete, you play your sport for life until you kick the bucket," he said when I asked why he was putting himself through months of gruelling training instead of relaxing at home.

And it turns out that Mr Ching is quite the romantic too. He told me with pride that the other reason for rejoining a competitive bodybuilding contest next year was to mark the 50th anniversary of his marriage to Madam Foo Tim Lin, 69.

However, Madam Foo was somewhat surprised when told of her husband's plans. She said, half in jest: "But he's a bit out of shape now."

Compared to a decade ago, Mr Ching Teng Soon now spends relatively less time in the gym. Instead, he supplements his exercise routine with long swims and slow walk-and-jogs around a reservoir.

Mr Ching made local and international headlines in 2002 when he returned to competitive bodybuilding at the age of 66. Now 79, he wants to celebrate his 80th birthday next year by taking part in Singapore's national bodybuilding championship.

There is no age limit in most bodybuilding competitions. His wife, Madam Foo Tim Lin, 69, was somewhat surprised when told of her husband's plans. She said, half in jest: "But he's a bit out of shape now."

Mr Ching jogging around a reservoir. "If you don't exercise when you are old, you go downhill very fast, like releasing the handbrake," he says. "A little exercise a day makes a big difference."

Mr Ching admits that his quest to rejoin competitive bodybuilding won't be easy. "At this age, you gain little from training a lot," he says. "It will take me about seven to eight months to get ready."

Mr Ching retired from competitive bodybuilding at 35 as family life and work demanded more of his time. But he has never stopped training, and continues to work out at the gym several times a week.

Mr Ching is making a comeback next year, partly to mark the 50th anniversary of his marriage to Madam Foo Tim Lin, 69, to the surprise of Madam Foo, seen in the foreground of this photo taken in April 2002.

Despite coming in last in his category in 2002, when he was 66, Mr Ching was given a special award.

Former national bodybuilder Ching Teng Soon, who won multiple awards in Singapore and abroad in his 20s, striking a pose next to eventual bronze-medal winner Elvin Chang, 20, at the 2002 Singapore national bodybuilding championship.

Mr Ching, then 66, was part of the heavyweight category (above 90kg). He came in last in his category despite his best efforts.

After winning glory in Singapore and abroad in his 20s and a 32-year break, Mr Ching officially became the oldest bodybuilder at age 66 to take part in the Singapore national championship on April 28, 2002.

Mr Ching was surrounded by far younger and more muscular competitors, but he said he was not cowed. Many of the young bodybuilders expressed admiration for his determination and love of the sport.

Mr Ching keeps a collection of photographs of his glory days, such as when he won the Mr Hercules competition in September 1959. His top award came in 1961, when he was crowned Mr Asia in Kuala Lumpur.

Mr Ching preparing to make his return to competitive bodybuilding in April 2002, after a 32-year break.

"I've never suffered so much," he confided during one of his training sessions at a neighbourhood gym.


This article was first published on Nov 29, 2014.
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