Remarkable Innova JC teacher, 27, is a coach and national athlete

Interview for nominee of TNP S Sooceleraj award for teacher-coaches - Renuka Satianathan, a track and field teacher

It was early morning of the first day of the year-end holidays, and the school compound was dark and deserted.

So many of the school's students were fast asleep, but Renuka Satianathan was wide awake and perspiring, as she pounded the track at Innova Junior College.

Renuka teaches General Paper at Innova. She is also coach of the school's track and field team, along with fellow teacher Shah Feroz.

And the 10,000m specialist is also training to qualify for the 2015 South-east Asia (SEA) Games, which Singapore will host next June.

She certainly has a full plate.

"Sometimes I do have to adjust my own training plans or avoid scheduling meetings with friends in the evenings to fit in training and races," said Renuka, who is one of six nominees for the TNP-S Soocelaraj Award, presented by Soilbuild Group, in recognition of outstanding teacher-coaches.

"Competition season is a little more difficult as I miss lessons in school, which take some time to catch up on.

"But it helps that running is a big part of my personal life and I see my friends during training, while I have a very positive work environment where my colleagues are my friends."

Renuka, who turned 27 on Wednesday, joined Innova in January 2013 and, while she had no coaching experience, she was asked if she could handle the track and field team because of her running background.

"I have never been through any coaching certification courses. What I do is based on my own experiences with different coaches, who have different ideas and coaching philosophies," said the University of Queensland graduate, who ran in the women's 10,000m race at the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia.

There are no stars in the 30-member Innova team, and that means the training philosophy used by Renuka and Feroz is different from what they went through as student-athletes.

Said Renuka: "When I was at RJC (Raffles Junior College), everything was geared towards winning the team championships.

"Here, it is not really a priority, we want them to do their best at Schools Nationals but enjoy the sport and be active for life.That's why we try to inject some fun into training through drills... even though the effects of drills will take years to show."


The soft-spoken teacher is also the "mother-hen" of her team, always ready with encouraging words in and outside of training.

She said: "The students are quite mature and they want to learn, so they are receptive to ideas and fun to work with, so there's no need to shout at them.

"That's not my style, anyway."

That was corroborated by Thomas Chew, one of her students, who said: "She is very kind and caring towards us. If any of us doesn't turn up for training, she will text us, out of concern and not to scold us, to ask why we were absent.

"She will also text us words of encouragement and buy us little treats sometimes to pick us up."

She will ramp up her own training under coach G Elangovan next year as the SEA Games draw closer, but Renuka says juggling all her responsibilities is not a problem.

She said: "If you want something badly enough, you can make things work. It's all about prioritising and trying to work smarter."

This article was first published on Nov 22, 2014. Get The New Paper for more stories.