22 Apr 2012
When his daughter called on Wednesday, Tan Kok Sing was not expecting anything more than her checking in on an aged father, who had suffered a stroke four years ago.
But Tan Yong Hui, 57, who lives in the United States with her husband, told him that he had made it onto Oprah Winfrey’s blog.
“Who?”, the 87-year-old asked.
Only one of the most famous personalities in the world, with a net worth of US$2.7 billion (S$3.4 billion).
“We love these guys – we’re calling them the Singapore Globeshufflers – for reminding us that’s it’s not about how many miles you can travel throughout your life, but how many three-point shots you can sink along the way,” the post on her blog read.
It might want to add that the three-point shots were sunk in spite of hard fouls by the defence.
Tan and his age-defying basketball companions Thng Wan Kow, 70 and also a stroke victim, and Teo Kee Huat, a 68-year-old who has survived colorectal cancer, have become the faces of the Singapore government’s 20-year sports masterplan dubbed Vision 2030.
Their spirited on-court action – Tan and his friends play basketball every morning at Block 95, Henderson Road – was captured on a Vision 2030 video that has been uploaded on to YouTube.
“When the Singapore Sports Council asked to film us, I agreed immediately because I would like to encourage regular exercise through the video, just as I have been doing for many years now in person,” Tan said.
Exercise has always been a part of his life.
“After I had the stroke, I could not even walk,” he said. “But I thought to myself, I might not be able to use my legs, but my upper body and my arms are fine. I can still continue to exercise.”
He proceeded to demonstrate what he did during his recovery period: sit-ups and push-ups, accomplished with a near immobile lower body.
Tan also proudly recounted his feat of scoring a perfect 30 points in the National Physical Fitness Assessment (NAPFA) Test in 1996 when he was already 71.
That same year, he went sky-diving for the first time.
All this hardly seemed possible when, at the age of 35, Tan was afflicted with rheumatism in both knees.
He tried both Eastern and Western medication but nothing seemed to work. That was when his life-long love affair with exercise and sports began.
He started to run daily at 5am, choosing the early hour because he was afraid that people would laugh at him.
His rheumatism got better, and Tan has sworn by exercise ever since.
He was behind the formation of jogging club Tiong Bahru Garden Joggers in 1972, which really only became a group when Tan’s infectious enthusiasm compelled others to join him.
Thng was one such individual.
“I suffered a stroke in 1978, and at that time, I would fall down after taking a few steps,” he said.
“It was Tan who encouraged me to keep active and slowly build up my fitness again.”
He started with brisk walking and now sometimes jogs up to 20km during the group’s weekly runs on Sunday from Henderson Road to Sentosa.
Not everybody in the group runs. Some, like Teo, walk the distance instead.
“I stopped in order to preserve my knee-caps for my basketball and badminton games,” said the retiree, who wears a permanent stomach bag attached to his small intestine that collects his waste after his cancer-stricken colon and rectum were removed in an operation in 2008.
Teo shares his experience every other Saturday at a colorectal cancer support group at the Singapore General Hospital.
“I have met some patients who still cannot get over their ordeal. I tell them that it is in the past and they have to move on, because if you don’t do anything, then you are really just waiting for death,” he said.
Waiting for death is probably the last thing on the minds of these three men.
In a particularly memorable line from the Vision 2030 video, Tan says: “The body is old, but the heart is not.”
And so they will continue to shoot those three-pointers, right until the final buzzer.
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