Dragonboater Kenneth Lee pushes on despite three knee ligament injuries

Kenneth Lee, captain of DBS Asia Dragons dragonboat team, has had three separate anterior cruciate ligament injuries. (PHOTO: Iman Hashim/Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — Knee ligament injuries are the bane for many sportspeople. They take a long time to recover, and may continue to hamper athletic movements even after healing.

Yet for dragonboater Kenneth Lee, he continues to be active in sports even after sustaining three anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries – twice on his left knee and once on his right – as well as a pulled shoulder muscle.

How did he manage to get through the arduous recovery process of those injuries?

“There will be people saying that such injuries are ‘genetic’ and tell you not to do strenuous sports, but I would consider myself to more optimistic, and try not let external factors get me down,” the 31-year-old DBS assistant vice-president, corporate development and ecosystems, told Yahoo News Singapore in an interview on 18 May (Saturday).

“It’s about facing up to challenges, finding solutions and not giving up.”

Leading team at DBS Marina Regatta

Lee, who is the captain of the DBS Asia Dragons dragonboat team, will be leading his teammates in the Corporate Open division at the annual DBS Marina Regatta, which will be held at The Promontory@Marina Bay from 31 May to 2 June.

In his younger days, he used to be active in other sports such as swimming, basketball, volleyball and water sports. Then came his first ACL injury on his left knee, after landing awkwardly during a Standard Obstacle Course training during his national service in 2007.

“The initial days after the injury were quite bad. I had to re-learn how to walk, I was on crutches most of the time, and daily stuff like showering became a chore,” Lee recalled.

“Being an active person, I was also too eager to return quickly to sports. That was probably why I tore my left ACL again while doing physiotherapy, and had to go for a second reconstructive knee surgery.”

Conditioning and strengthening core muscles

His unfortunate brushes with injuries did not end there. During his university days, Lee was sidelined again with a pulled shoulder muscle. Then, he tore his right knee’s ACL. This time, he decided against reconstructive surgery, which would have required a lengthy recuperation process.

“There’s a school of thought which is to just strengthen the core muscles around the knee instead of reconstructing it,” he explained. “I decided to follow this school of thought, and so far the knee has been holding up well in recent years.”

Nonetheless, Lee has to be disciplined nowadays in conditioning and strengthening his core muscles, dedicating two or three gym sessions weekly to doing so. So far, the injuries have not flared up again, even as he took up dragonboating and CrossFit training after joining DBS after graduating from university.

Initiative to make dragonboating more inclusive

He is also active in DB Hearts, an initiative started in 2016 by his dragonboating coach which aims to make the sport more inclusive to people with special needs. For example, it has partnered the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped to run programmes to train visually-handicapped people in dragonboating.

DBS Asia Dragons captain Kenneth Lee is active in the DB Hearts initiative, which aims to make dragonboating more inclusive for special-needs people. (PHOTO: Iman Hashim/Yahoo News Singapore)

Through DB Hearts’ partnership with DBS, this year’s Marina Regatta will see these special-needs people take part in community races for the second year in a row.

“There’s a misconception that you need all five senses in order to do dragonboating, but we want to let the special-needs people know that it is still possible for them to enjoy the sport,” he said.

“I grew up in a close-knit family, and I feel it’s important to have such ‘kampung spirit’ to help one another in the community. So that really resonated with me when my coach approached me to help in the initiative.”

Lee feels that it is through overcoming challenges and obstacles – whether it is about his injuries or about helping special-needs people learn a sport – that makes participating in sports worthwhile.

“It’s about having the belief to keep pushing through barriers,” he said.

Other Singapore stories:

HPV vaccine: Better safe than sorry, say parents

Married Singaporean man jailed for registering marriage to mistress in Las Vegas

M1 fibre outage affects users in northern, eastern parts of Singapore over 2 days