Life goes beyond the digits on the scale and your body is capable of so much more! Yahoo’s #Fitspo of the Week series is dedicated to inspirational men and women in Singapore leading healthy and active lifestyles. Have someone to recommend? Hit Cheryl up on Instagram or Facebook!
Name: Kong Teck Lee (@tecklee.kong)
Occupation: Full-time Outrigger Canoeist
Food: Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m a very big eater. I try to eat wholesome fresh food as much as I can, and cook whenever possible.
Exercise: Eight to 12 sessions of 1.5 hours of paddling a week, strength-and-conditioning sessions four times a week, and I make a point to do at least one other sport every week such as table tennis, running and beach volleyball.
Q: When you were younger, were you active in sports?
A: I only started getting into sports when I entered secondary school. I was part of the volleyball team for all four years and continued playing leisurely through to my undergraduate days.
I was also part of a divisional long distance running team when I was serving National Service. In junior college, I dabbled in judo and eventually joined the canoe sprint team when I was at the National University of Singapore.
How did you get into canoeing?
It’s a funny story. I was initially not involved in any extra-curricular activity in the first few months of university and was just working out in the gym between classes. Some members of the canoeing team spotted me and decided to ask me if I was interested in trying out the sport.
I did not have any prior experience in water sports nor did I particularly enjoy them but decided to go for it anyway because… what’s the worst that could happen? Fast forward eight years and I still find myself waking up at 5am most days for training. Life works in strange ways sometimes!
When did you realise you wanted to do canoeing competitively?
I started in the canoe sprint discipline as a C1 paddler when I entered university and started to race since my first year in local and varsity-level competitions. When I graduated from university, my coach suggested for me to transit into ocean outrigger canoeing in 2019 as there were more opportunities for international exposure and racing experience.
Currently, I race in both the outrigger canoe (ruddered) and Va’a (rudderless) disciplines. I’ve always been competitive and I train because I love racing.
Sometimes I even question myself whether I would continue doing the sport if I was not racing. Looking back at my decision to leave my full-time job for paddling, it seems very much a natural progression although it was equally as daunting.
When did you decide to leave your corporate job to become a full-time ocean canoeist?
I was a SkillsFuture Singapore Agency-Workforce Singapore Agency joint undergraduate scholar and was working at SSG. Then in early 2022, I had qualified to represent Singapore in both the individual and team event at the Va’a World Sprints Championships held in London that August. The months in between were honestly draining as I had to train before work, during lunch and after work whenever I could, and I found myself burnt out close to the competition.
It did not help that there was no national team setup nor any funding which added financial pressure to continue working full-time while training at full intensity. No surprises, I did not do well in that race and it really made me think about my next steps. Eventually, I decided to give myself a period of two to three years to chase my competitive goals and hopefully make a mark for Singapore in the world of ocean paddling.
This year, I’ve qualified again as Singapore’s representative in the individual and team events in the World Distance Championships to be held in Samoa in August. (The World Championships alternates between Sprints and Long Distance every year.)
What are some of the highlights of your canoeing journey?
The sense of “Ohana” and “Whanau” (‘Family’ in Hawaiian and Māori respectively) is incredible at every race. There is an overwhelming emphasis on protecting the environment and community in this sport and it truly shows through in the behaviour and mindset of paddlers around the world.
I would consider this to be an adventure sport so naturally a big highlight of my ocean paddling journey is the opportunity to paddle some of the most spectacular waters around the world.
A highlight of my short ocean paddling journey so far has to be becoming one of the first Asian paddlers to join the ranks of Puakea Team Riders – a great honour and motivation for me as I strive to become the top paddler in Asia.
One of my best experiences so far is racing 28km from Rottnest Island back to mainland Australia in Perth. Thankfully, I did not capsize nor see any sharks along the way.
Conversely, what are some of the challenges?
This is a very niche sport, traditional to the Pacific Islands and Polynesia, so it does not receive that much attention in this part of the world.
Funding continues to be a major issue as I train and race full-time out of my own pocket. This is also a demanding sport that depends a lot on the weather and water conditions. As such, it is required for our training to be flexible so as to clock as many hours as needed whenever the weather permits.
When you were younger, did you experience any incidents that made you feel insecure about yourself?
I’ve always been a big kid. I love eating and will never stop loving it. I was never particularly insecure but someone once told me, “Fat kids are hard to kidnap” and I absolutely loved it. It’s always about spinning things around and a little humour goes a long way.
I was a big kid growing up and would describe my body type as a balloon – I put on weight just by breathing! I was stuck at 90kg for a good three years and being happy about it, but recently dropped to 78kg simply from training and watching my diet with the mindset of improving my paddling results.
For me, as long as you feel good and are healthy, nothing else really matters. I went through a health scare right before enlistment and that limited my ability to do sports for a long time. I’m thankful I managed to go through it and found the root cause eventually.
When did you feel the least confident about yourself?
Ironically, the period of my life when I felt the least confident about myself was when I was objectively at my slimmest or “most in shape” you could say. I guess as we grow up, we start becoming much more aware of societal expectations and beauty standards imposed on us and that is when our self-esteem and confidence can really be tested.
I, too, like everyone else wanted to be fit and get into shape to become more attractive but at some point, you really realise that we will never be fully happy with it. And that’s okay! For me, it has long changed from a chase to become physically attractive to becoming functionally fit and performing better in sports.
Are you satisfied with your body now?
I am satisfied now in the sense that I feel healthy, fit and have a good relationship with food. Can it be better? Definitely – I want to decrease my body fat, increase muscle mass, get taller and everything in between. Some possible and some obviously not, so I don’t give myself a hard time over this.