Soldier, sportsman, gymnastNational gymnast CPL Kaeson Lim won his first SEA Games medal during NS. Find out how he balanced both his sporting career and NS!
// Story by Teo Jing Ting
// Photos by Chai Sian Liang & courtesy of CPL Lim
He was eight years old when he first saw his schoolmates doing somersaults at the school gymnasium.
Mesmerised by the cool moves, a young Corporal (CPL) Kaeson Lim then begged his father to allow him to switch Co-curricular Activity (CCA) from taekwondo to gymnastics. As fate would have it, the Henry Park Primary School student passed the gymnastics trial and successfully made the school team.
Four years later, he and four others were asked to try out for the national team. CPL Lim was the only one who made the cut, and has never looked back since.
Dedication and discipline
Being on the national team meant training six times a week, for 4.5 hours each session.
This was CPL Lim's routine until he enlisted for National Service (NS) in September 2020.
The first three-week confinement period during Basic Military Training (BMT) prevented him from keeping up with his usual regime. But once he was able to book out on weekends, he would head for training even though it was for just a few hours.
During his free periods in BMT, CPL Lim also seized the opportunity to work out at the gym or go for runs. It wasn't easy maintaining a high level of fitness, but for CPL Lim, it is a passion and commitment to his sport.
"Even if you stop training for a day or two, it sets you back by quite a lot. So every time I resume training, the first day is focused on building my strength and I can only practise my routines on the second day," said CPL Lim.
The 22-year-old sportsman also made the decision to specialise on the pommel horse, instead of all six gymnastics events, to make efficient use of the available time he had to train.
"It's really quite tiring, but it's a choice I made."
In February 2021, CPL Lim was posted to the Republic of Singapore Air Force's 607 Squadron (SQN) as a security trooper in the Immediate Response Force.
Working in a team of seven, his role involved responding to intruders and taking out unauthorised drones flying over the airbase during a 48-hour shift. If an alert is sounded, CPL Lim and his team are expected to be ready within three minutes.
When they were on duty, CPL Lim and his team often had to be in their bunks in case of an activation. He would then use the time to keep up with his strength training and even brought his own weights and a pair of parallettes (gymnastics equipment that simulate parallel bars) into camp to do so.
This was when his fellow troopers realised that they had a national gymnast in their midst.
"They started asking me to show them backflips and other gymnastic moves," said CPL Lim with a laugh.
His teammates would also work out with him, especially when their Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) was nearing. This, coupled with the times spent during activation, forged strong bonds and close friendships that CPL Lim holds dear.
Training for SEA Games
It was this brotherhood that also gave CPL Lim an added motivation to do well during the recent Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in May 2022.
He was granted time-off for about a month in mid-April to train for the competition.
Even with the time-off, preparation was tough. CPL Lim had to restart his training from scratch as he was competing in five gymnastics events instead of just the Pommel Horse that he had been focusing on for the past year.
"It was stressful cos I didn't want to let my (gymnastics) teammates down," recalled CPL Lim. Efforts were doubled and the six-man team was training almost six hours daily.
What helped CPL Lim tide over that period was the constant support and encouragement from his gymnastics team.
"They would help me as much as possible and gave me tips on training. And because my seniors also went through NS before, they know my struggles and what I was going through."
CPL Lim was also grateful for the support and understanding from his NS teammates, which gave him peace of mind when he was training for the competition.
"Because I'm away, there is a lack of manpower and I'm very thankful that they were covering my shift," said CPL Lim.
"They even sent me encouraging messages and cheered me on during the games!"
CPL Lim and his team eventually clinched the bronze medal, which was the first Men's team medal since 2015.
When CPL Lim returned to 607 SQN, news of his team's win had already spread throughout the airbase.
"We are all very proud of him!" said Major (MAJ) Jimmy Kuah, 34, Officer Commanding (OC) of the Perimeter Protection Force in 607 SQN.
Having seen CPL Lim's dedication to both gymnastics and NS, he was heartened that the sportsman's efforts had paid off.
"CPL Lim is a dedicated and committed individual. He's proficient in leading a team and gives very clear instructions to his fellow troopers on what needs to be done," explained MAJ Kuah.
"He also understood the manpower constraints that we have at times, and always puts his duties first before going to train."
Worth every sacrifice
With his ORD (Operationally Ready Date) on 28 Jul drawing near, CPL Lim is already missing the camaraderie with his fellow troopers.
"I actually enjoyed my NS experience a lot. I really treasure the friendships made and I'm thankful for them," said CPL Lim, who eventually plans to open a gymnastics club.
He added that NS also taught him the importance of time management, which helped him plan his schedule so that he has enough time to alternate between NS, gymnastics training and getting sufficient rest.
"Every Singaporean male has to go through NS, so to be able to manage my sports, NS and the SEA Games, I felt that my hard work has paid off. It was worth every sacrifice."