Four times weekly and for two hours each session, Alina Choo faithfully pumped iron at the NUS gym since the start of the year.
The athlete, a third-year economics undergraduate, does not get paid to represent Singapore, but her training regimen was fuelled by her passion for powerlifting.
Yesterday morning, the 21-year-old touched down at Changi Airport clutching a bench press bronze medal (Under-63kg category) won after she lifted 60kg at the Asia Oceania Powerlifting Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, from Dec 13-20.
It was vindication of her training and efforts, as she said: "I booked my flight not knowing whether I'd do well. So, when the three white lights lit up for my lift, I knew my hard work had paid off."
For her and four other like-minded powerlifting enthusiasts from Singapore the trip was fruitful as they returned with seven golds, four silvers and three bronzes competing against powerhouses such as Australia and Kazakhstan.
On their debut last year, the Singapore contingent won four golds, five silvers and a bronze.
Choo's story of an athlete pursuing her passion is similar to that of her team-mates'.
Clinton Lee, who was named best junior lifter after writing new Asian records and winning the overall (677.5kg) and squat (257.5kg) golds, is a 22-year-old full-time national serviceman.
Derrick Kim, who clinched a deadlift gold with a 275kg effort in the Under-74kg open class, is the manager at Anytime Fitness in Nex.
Each of them saved up to $3,000 for travel to represent Singapore.
Buoyed by the good results, the small group of powerlifters in Singapore now hopes it will get recognition as a National Sports Association and have a gym to call its home.
Kim, 32, said: "Compared to other nations, we are like babies. We were up against teams who were much more experienced and professional, so it's quite surprising we were able to do so well."
Powerlifting has seen a gradual rise in popularity in Singapore. The first National Open in 2011 saw 13 participants. At this year's edition there were about 100.
Powerlifting Singapore was registered as a society in 2014 and it is recognised by the International Powerlifting Federation . The sport does not feature in the Olympics but has been a fixture in the Paralympics since 1984.
At the recent ASEAN Para Games, bronze-medallist Kalai Vanen and Melvyn Yeo flew the flag for hosts Singapore.
Choo, who only started lifting this year, believes that the team's achievements will encourage more people to take up the sport, saying: "I can't wait to tell Singaporeans that anybody can achieve it."
Kim said: "The fact that we can produce athletes of this calibres proves we have the resources, interest and manpower for the sport."
But, for the moment, the thrill of having won medals at a major competition remains dominant for the group. Lee said: "I went there knowing I could win. I'm glad I've done something proud for the country."
This article was first published on December 23, 2015.
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