Paddling against all oddsThis Full-time National Serviceman (NSF) medic did not let circumstances get in his way of sporting success.
// Story by Koh Eng Beng
// Photos by Kenneth Lin & courtesy of Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC), Singapore Canoe Federation, and the RSAF
Fall down seven times, stand up eight — this is the life journey of Corporal (CPL) Jovi Jayden Kalaichelvan.
He lost his father on the morning of his first exam for O levels. He was retained after failing his first year's exams in junior college. And he fell at the last hurdle in his bid to become an air force pilot.
But CPL Jovi has always pushed himself to bounce back. And earlier this year, the national canoeist scored a big win – by bagging a bronze medal in his Southeast Asian (SEA) Games debut.
Recalling the ups and downs of his life, CPL Jovi said his family faced financial difficulties after his father's passing. They also had to deal with a long-drawn legal dispute with a relative over his late father's property.
His mother was then a homemaker. He has two younger brothers – one of them is handicapped and can't walk or speak – and a younger sister.
The troubles at home affected CPL Jovi's studies, and he had to repeat his first year at National Junior College.
"I spent most of my time trying to help my mum with the court case. My mind wasn't in school and, at that point, I still hadn't gotten over the death of my dad," recalled the 21-year-old.
But life seemed to have changed for the better when he enlisted for National Service (NS) in 2021 – he entered Officer Cadet School and was pursuing his dream of becoming a pilot with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).
Unfortunately, he eventually failed to make the cut during the final test flight of the air grading course.
But when one door closes, another opens. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 SEA Games was postponed, giving CPL Jovi – who was a member of the national canoe team – a chance to try to qualify for the competition.
And while he did not become a pilot, he was posted to the Singapore Armed Forces Medical Training Institute (SMTI) where he underwent training to be a combat medic.
Over there, CPL Jovi focused on his combat medic training which was intense. When that phase was over, he took part in canoeing training for four days a week in the evenings.
He made the cut during the qualifiers and was selected for the SEA Games squad. He then went on to clinch a bronze medal with his teammates in the men's K4 500m event at the SEA Games in May this year.
Canoe events are denoted by "C" for canoe, and "K" for kayak; the number following denotes if it is an individual or team event.
"When I crossed the finishing line, there was definitely a sense of relief that the hard work that I put in – to juggle NS and training – had paid off," said CPL Jovi.
"But I didn't really revel in that achievement for long, and quite quickly I moved on to look to the next competition."
At the time of the interview, CPL Jovi was training for the Canoe Sprint World Championships in Halifax, Canada, which was held from 3 to 7 Aug.
He put up a commendable performance, and reached the semi-finals of the MK4 500m and MK2 1000m events with his teammates.
Demanding training regime
His training routine is grueling – CPL Jovi wakes up as early as 4.45am for morning training at the Water Sports Centre.
After the training, which usually lasts about one-and-a-half hours, he rushes over to Changi Naval Base to report for duty.
In the evening, he heads back to the Water Sports Centre for more training. And of course, training continues on weekends.
"Juggling training and NS is not easy," he said. "But if you take care of your own body – rest well and eat well – and do the little things right, you'd realise that actually it's not so bad."
Support from colleagues
CPL Jovi credits his SEA Games achievement to his colleagues and superiors. "I consider myself really fortunate. Because it's not every day that you meet people who would be so willing to help you," he said.
"I get my job done and do whatever I can to help my colleagues out. And they cover for me when I'm away for competitions.
"What my superiors and colleagues are doing right now…(is) helping me reach my goals (of doing Singapore proud in sports) a lot faster."
CPL Jovi, who will complete his full-time NS in February 2023, has set his sights on winning more medals for Singapore at the next Asian Games and SEA Games.
On his takeaways from his NS so far, CPL Jovi said that besides experiencing the thrill of flying the CT-4B aircraft during his earlier pilot training, it would be smashing his limiting beliefs.
"I realised I can do a lot more than what I think I'm capable of."