Team Singapore kayaker Brandon Ooi looks like a quintessential beach boy with his mop of unruly hair, deep tan and six-pack. But watch him on the water, biceps the size of small trees propelling his sleek kayak across the silvery surface and you’ll find that his physique is more than aesthetic. It is form, function and mechanical efficiency that has led Ooi down the punishing path to sport excellence. With his new role as a Sport Singapore Ambassador, Ooi hope to lead more Singaporeans down the path to a healthier life.
Tell us about your relationship with sports. Has it always been a big part of your life?
I started my journey with sports from a really young age, thanks to my parents who enjoyed taking me outdoors to play. During my formative years, my dad liked to test the limits of my strength and ask me to do things a normal toddler wouldn’t be able to do, like pullups, push-ups, eating spicy food, just to name a few. As I grew older, my mom would encourage me to learn tennis and take me to swimming lessons. Swimming allowed me to win my first few competitive races, albeit at a low level. However, those were all activities that my parents chose for me.
My real love for sport came when I chose canoeing after the sports try-outs in ACS Independent, by which I was already 12 years old. Not knowing it was a competitive sport at the time, I wanted to join something that sounded interesting and fun, and so I chose it over Softball and I never looked back. Now, as a professional athlete, I’ve already spent more than half my life working to be the best at what I do and it’s hard to imagine what I would be if not for sport.
What do you hope to achieve in your role as a Sport Singapore (SportSG) Ambassador?
I have been racing for many years, and besides the self-satisfaction that improvement gives, the knowledge that the whole nation is behind you is one of the best feelings that an athlete can have. I hope that I will be able to bring more Singaporeans behind our athletes, and in turn bring greater cheer to our country as we strive for greater heights.
More than that, as an athlete I have realised that while working for that singular goal, you pick up a lot of skills, life hacks and relationships along the way. Therefore, I hope that through what I do as an athlete and ambassador, I will be able to inspire people for self-improvement in something other than earning more money.
What’s your opinion of the sport scene in Singapore now and where do you hope to see it in the future?
We have made leaps and bounds even since I started kayaking in 2007. However, we’re still quite far from being a sporting nation. I hope that it continues this trajectory as we continue to shift the paradigm of sportsmen being temporary dead-end jobs, and more Singaporeans start to be more invested in sports, both as competitors and spectators. I hope to eventually see stadiums reaching their limits for the Singaporeans cheering on our athletes more quickly than an international artiste concert or even sometimes to travel out of the way to watch our local talents. That is when we know that Singaporeans are more passionate about local sports than ever before. This will in turn give the younger generation something to look up to and encourage participation in sports as well, giving rise to a better generation of sportspeople than the ones we have right now.
How do you think you can inspire people to lead a healthier lifestyle?
I believe that the body requires some activity to feel fresh and good, no matter what you do for a living. I think by showing that it is possible for your body to do seemingly impossible things, people can be inspired to pick up what they never thought possible to make a change for the better.
How do you convince people who say that they have no time for exercise to change their lifestyles?
I don’t believe that there is such a thing as “no time”. I think doing something is always an intentional choice, even choosing to not think about what you do is a choice. I believe that your body is a permanent tool for the work you want to do throughout your life and if you don’t take care of it in favour of overworking, overeating or to catch up on that latest Netflix show, then you are just sacrificing your later years for a temporary satisfaction. That being said, a healthy lifestyle doesn’t happen overnight. Finding an outdoor recreation like tennis, swimming or even just climbing the stairs to your apartment and sticking to that regularly, however much you are willing to squeeze out, is a small step in the right direction. Then you can work on increasing the minutes spent. If you really can’t spend the time outside of work, then there are a plethora of desk exercises for working professionals on the internet that you can do, so there is no excuse for not exercising! Personal health is always worth spending the time on.