Specialist Dental Group has launched an on-going series of blog posts by our individual dental specialists. All views provided are the dentist’s own opinions and are posted on this blog as part of our on-going efforts to educate the public about dental issues and other matters of interest relating to dentistry and healthcare.

1st picI have been swimming my whole life. Well almost my whole life – for as long as I could remember. That is how long I have been swimming.

I recall my mum bringing me for swimming lessons at the old Farrer Park and Toa Payoh swimming complexes and apparently I truly hated it at first. Well, being a weak and small boy, and suffering from the potential hazards of asthma, it was plainly what the doctor ordered. I had no choice! I must be around 3 years old then.

Luckily my aversion to water disappeared quickly and I started enjoying the lessons and even commenced competitive racing. I recall winning my first swimming gold medal when I was 8 years old, and yes, I think I still have that medal.

I was enrolled in ACPS and subsequently ACS (Anglo-Chinese School) which naturally enhanced my love for this sport. I was the swimming captain at ACS and bore the burden of maintaining the team’s winning streak of 24 years of consecutive National Championship wins. Luckily that year, we won!2nd

After many years of swimming, my coach started us on a slightly different water sport: competitive surf lifesaving. It was not a very popular or well-known sport in Singapore at that time. Lifesaving as a sport has two roles. Firstly to educate and teach the public on water safety practices; in and around water ways, rivers, open sea, creeks and swimming pools etc. Secondly, was to race and compete at national and international lifesaving events. I had the honour to represent Singapore in my first national team at the Asia Pacific Games in Christchurch, New Zealand. At barely 16 years old, I was the youngest in the national team. I recall vividly, it was right after my secondary 4 preliminary exams, and just before the all-important `O level` exams. What was I thinking then? :p

After coming back from racing at the biggest event of my life in NZ, swimming and lifesaving took a back seat. My dad insisted: “you must concentrate on your studies now – you cannot make a living out of swimming.” So as what most obedient children in any Asian family would do, I stopped training and reduced racing competitively.

3rdI picked up playing water polo when I was in the army. Primarily to keep my interests close to the pool, and secondarily to get out of camp duty as much as possible. Enrolling into Dentistry at NUS, I renewed all my interests with the chlorinated water and participated in water polo, lifesaving and swimming events all at once.

King Edward VII hall was the preferred student hostel for most medical and dental students due to its proximity to the faculty. However I chose to reside at the much further Kent Ridge hall, which was right opposite the swimming pool then.

Balancing sports and studies well is never easy. I was lucky enough to survive well in both. I graduated with distinctions in Orthodontics and paediatric dentistry, 2 sports merit awards for lifesaving and swimming, as well as represented Singapore Universities at the AUG (Asean university games). (All while also working during the weekends at the radio station as a part time producer/presenter, but that is another story) I remember a menacing Prof. Chew (Dean of Dentistry at that time) asking if I truly wanted to go to the AUG. It was final term, final year, absolutely crucial times. Furthermore I had already taken 2 weeks off precious term time earlier that year after being selected for a student exchange program at the University of Sydney. Hmmmm, what was I thinking (again)!!

4th5thAfter completing my specialist training in Sydney, I started returning to Singapore periodically working as a visiting consultant. At the suggestion of my coach, I re-joined the NUS lifesaving training squad each time I came back. I never knew how much I missed the sport until then. That was 11 years ago and I have never stopped training and competing with the squad since.

About 2 years ago, through social media such as Facebook and twitter, I re-connected with some of my team mates whom I used to train swimming with while we were teenagers. Re-commencing serious swimming training and competing again added a different facet to my work life. By then, I would have been in private practice as a specialist orthodontist for more than 10 years, work is somewhat stabilised and I can afford more time away from the office doing non-dental work.

We raced at the Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore Masters swimming events and started winning medals again. That adrenaline rush was back! We called ourselves the OBGs (Oldies, but Goodies).

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I qualified and raced at the FINA World Masters Games in Montreal in August this year. I competed in 4 events and came in top 30-40 in the races. Not bad for a world class event I guess. I had a moment and posted the following on my Facebook then.

“Looking back at the last few days of racing at the worlds and trying to be introspective of sorts…. I wonder if it is the awe while watching the 80+ year olds complete a 8th200fly, or the younger fitter ones set world records that makes this episode of my life more interesting. I have learnt that flying halfway around the globe alone to race is no easy task. With 6000 participants, one race a day spread over 4-5 days is a long, drawn-out ordeal. No matter whether it’s battling jetlag, preparing your own meals, training enough, resting enough, stretching enough, controlling calorie intake, locating the venue, turning up on time, remembering the correct heat and lane, fighting for space in the warm up pool, fighting for space at the athletes’ resting zone, has all been a new experience to me. We all have our priorities and goals and I think it’s not all about winning or beating your opponents. Sometimes just getting up to train at the pool is already God’s blessing. Your career, family or health may be keeping you away. but I think we all need small baby steps and set mini goals and targets for ourselves. A friend once told9th me this: in 5-10 years’ time, you wouldn’t remember how many days you’ve taken off work that year 2014, but you’ll remember you’ve raced at the worlds. Thank you those of you whom I’ve asked more than once to train with me – you know who you are n I’ll still be asking when I get back! So, priorities set? Thank you Montreal” 

Most of my Singaporean friends complain of the lack of a work-life balance. It is often hard to find time to exercise or that they were just plain exhausted after work. I guess at some stage, all work and no play does make jack a dull boy. It’s all about setting priorities and investing back in our own health. Life is short and there will always be work waiting for us tomorrow.

As a colleague and friend, may I urge you to pick up a sport, be it walking, jogging, cycling or just plain kicking or hitting a ball around. Do it today and do it now. You do not need to be competitive; you don’t even need to be winning medals. Just leaving work early once or twice a week to enjoy the outdoors: your mind deserves it, your body needs it.

I am amazed after all these years that I still truly enjoy swimming as a sport. Mum is always right, and I must thank her for bringing me to my first pool session that many years ago……and of course we were merely following the doctor’s orders, correct? : D

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11thDr Eugene Chan is a Dental Specialist in Orthodontics with Specialist Dental Group®. He received his specialist training in orthodontics from the University of Sydney, Australia, and his Doctorate of Medical Science from the University of Groningen, The Netherland. Dr Chan is a Clinical Consultant with Invisalign and is one of the top Invisalign Platinum Elite providers in Australia and Singapore. He trains dentists and orthodontists in Singapore and Asia in Invisalign. For more information, visit www.specialistdentalgroup.com.

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