by Nicolette Mok
74-year old Canagasabai Kunalan, or Mr. K to those around him, still brings work home after leaving the office for the day.
In fact, the former national sprinter keeps so active that his job as a Senior Manager with Sport Singapore’s ActiveSG Athletics Club is not the only role that he busies himself with.
Currently transitioning from his previous position at the national sporting body’s Strategic Development and Marketing department, he is presently handling both his handover, as well as helping to organise the new Athletics Club – even going for training sessions in the evenings to help coach and oversee proceedings.
Revealing his entry into athletics over 50 years ago, the former teacher told us: “I was playing football with the Teachers’ Union team, when a lecturer from the Teachers’ Training College saw me running and noticed that I was fast. He was a national athletics coach. I resisted for six months because I had friends in football. But eventually, I went for training and became a national runner, staying in the sport for… Forever!”
Indeed, “forever” could be more accurate a term than any other when it comes to describing Kunalan’s career in sports. With no plans at all to retire, the sprightly man has one primary objective in mind as he goes about his active schedule: to do his best for Singapore and to fulfil Sport Singapore’s leaders’ vision of a sportier nation.
He expressed: “What’s my motivation? I see our leaders talking about these things, and they’re very genuine. If I can play a part, then I must play a part.”
“I also lecture in sports science. I like it and I keep up-to-date by reading, so that I can eventually advise some coaches and athletes on the 2% or 3% that’s missing from their training, that’s not enabling them to break the records and win the medals,” the physiology Masters degree holder continued, adding that he hoped that Singapore would, one day, earn a medal at the Asian Games.
For now, however, Kunalan is content working on the ActiveSG Athletics Club, which aims to bring track and field to young people in the community. With fully equipped stadiums used as venues for children and youths to pick up the basics of athletics, the Club also boasts coaches certified by the International Association of Athletics Federation.
This will also, hopefully, serve as a starting point for parents to start getting active too, as they bring their shoes to run alongside their children, or even volunteer to help supervise the Club’s members.
“I want to see how we can keep on going, encouraging the whole of Singapore to think of ActiveSG and what we are offering. I would like to encourage them to come into athletics because this forms the base for many other sports. We’re doing running, jumping, and throwing, and all these will develop coordination, speed, strength, and these will serve in all other sports. But the main thing is to get them active. Our children are not spending enough time being active, and it’s a big worry for the whole country. Obesity, diabetes, and the like are setting in earlier,” Kunalan remarked.
“We need these ActiveSG programmes for the kids. In the past, when we were kids, we didn't need it because we were active on our own anyway. We would go home after school, put our bags down, and then go outside. There was always something active to do. Things have changed now. Everyone’s living in high-rise buildings, and some parents are even afraid to send their children down to play because it’s dangerous. So it is our duty to bring programmes such as these to the community.”
Being tasked with helping to develop a community’s sporting culture is a rather tall order, even for a giant in the scene like Mr K. The ever-spirited individual, however, is not daunted.
“I don’t worry about challenges. Whenever there’s one, I sit down and I think: What is this? It’s nothing! I’ve run against Asia’s best. So I don’t worry about all these things – they can be solved!”