A natural in barefoot running

PHOTO: A natural in barefoot running

SINGAPORE - The trend of barefoot running which final-year hospitality student Nabin Parajuli sparked in his Nanyang Polytechnic athletics team came naturally to him.

The 21-year-old Nepal-born Singapore permanent resident started running without shoes for a simple reason - he did not have the right pair of shoes when he joined the school team two years ago.

"For me, it might have been comfortable to run without shoes because my feet were already used to it," says Nabin, who came in second at the inaugural 8km Hong Bao Run in February, only three seconds behind Mok Ying Ren, last year's South-east Asian Games marathon gold medallist.

Growing up in Nepal, he was an active child who climbed trees and picked fruit with his friends.

"In two or three minutes, he would climb a 50m-tall tree," says his mother, Madam Isha Parajuli, 42, owner of a dried goods store here.

"I was very scared he'd fall down, and marked trees with paint to stop him from going up," she says.

She adds that he stopped climbing when he was about 10 years old, and has grown up to be a filial child who would even take care of her when she was ill.

"When I'm sick, he says 'Mummy, I'll help you.' He also cooks for me," she says.

Now, Nabin and his older sister, human resource assistant Rita Parajuli, take turns helping out at their mother's store at night.

The family live in a four-room flat in Joo Seng Road. Nabin's parents decided to come to Singapore in 2007 for work, as well as for their children's education.

Nabin's father, Mr Prabhakhar Parajuli, 45, is a businessman who has been working here for 15 years.

Nabin's parents did not approve of his running competitions at first because they were concerned that he might neglect his studies.

However, his family members now support him at competitions.

"When they watch me compete, I am more nervous," he says. "But their presence definitely motivates me to perform better."

What was your reaction when you first heard that Nabin was running in competitions?

Madam Isha: I thought he went out to play after school. When we found out, my husband called up his school and his teacher told us that he would either go to the library or for training, I stopped worrying.

Nabin: Sometimes, I didn't tell my parents I was training because they wouldn't let me go. My studies were their priority. "You have to make sure you get good results and don't fail," they told me.

Rita: At the beginning, we didn't know about his running. He used to go out and not tell us.

Nabin: I eventually told my sister about my running. Besides her, no one else could help at the shop if I was not free. I'd take a picture of the stadium where I was at and show her through WhatsApp to make sure she knew that I was training. In January, she saw me run in a school competition.

Rita, were you resentful that you had to cover for him at your mum's shop?

Rita: Not after I knew that he was doing well in running. We are a good team. Even my father helps out sometimes.

Madam Isha, how did Nabin take care of you when you were ill?

Madam Isha: About eight years ago, I was very sick in Nepal. I suffered an electric shock from a kettle and was in a bad condition. Rita was living in a hostel and only Nabin was at home - my husband was in Singapore. Nabin took care of my breakfast and lunch.

Nabin: Before that, I had already started learning to cook.

Madam Isha:His school was nearby. During break time, he would come home to help out.

As a child, what was the naughtiest thing which Nabin did?

Nabin: Climbing trees.

Madam Isha: He never lied, even as a child.

How did you adapt to life here?

Nabin: It was very difficult in the first year because I didn't have many friends. I didn't dare to eat out as I was unfamiliar with the food and lifestyle.

Rita: Nabin used to go for tuition and teachers used to come to our house to help me study for the O levels.

Nabin: The education system here is very different. The tuition helped me to get into secondary school and my friends helped me adapt to the Singaporean lifestyle. As soon as I entered secondary school, I made new friends. Hanging around the malls with them, I tried different types of local food and even spoke Singlish. Learning Singlish helped me get along with them and, with their help, I understood Singapore better.

What would you do differently if the parent-child roles were reversed?

Nabin: I would be supportive of my child's running. My mother was not supportive initially. I think that studies are important, but if you know that you're good at running and that you can manage both, you should do it. I'd even join my child for runs.

Madam Isha: I would help her out in the shop and I would discuss it with her first if I can't do so.

byseow@sph.com.sg

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