Gentle giant

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01 Sep 2017 | PEOPLE
Melayu 华文

Gentle giant

// STORY Teo Jing Ting
// PHOTO Timothy Sim & courtesy of 3SG (NS) Kang

English Melayu

Standing at 196cm and weighing 120kg, 3SG (NS) Kang literally towered over other gym-goers. There was an intimidating air about him.

"Hi, I'm Goo Young." His eyes crinkled as he smiled and greeted me with a firm handshake. The 24-year-old was soft-spoken and his voice had an almost shy tone to it. All of a sudden, he no longer had that looming presence; he was simply a big, friendly giant.

Against all odds

It's a story that we've heard many times before - overweight boy goes to the gym to lose weight and falls in love with bodybuilding. But here's the twist: 3SG (NS) Kang was forced by his mum to do so.

"At 15, I was 170cm tall and weighed 110kg. My mum decided to engage a personal trainer to help me lose weight, and he taught me how to transform my body at my own pace," said the Korean-born Singapore Permanent Resident, who eventually lost 30kg.

Even injuries did not dampen his passion for bodybuilding. During secondary school, he suffered a slipped disc in his lower back. Nine months before he enlisted, he broke his left clavicle in a car accident and had a titanium plate inserted into his shoulder for a year.

When the plate was removed, 3SG (NS) Kang started hitting the gym again and met a personal trainer who encouraged him to join strongman competitions.

The former rugby player was then introduced to Elevate, the gym he now coaches at, to learn the ropes of weightlifting.

In November 2015, he competed in his first strongman competition - the HomeTeamNS Strongman Challenge, where he placed fourth among more than 150 contenders.

He eventually moved on to powerlifting competitions and took home the championship for the Singapore Powerlifting Alliance (SPA) Juniors U-125kg in August 2016 and the Singapore Powerlifting Open this April.

Mental discipline

Like most sports, powerlifting requires plenty of discipline and mental endurance. 3SG (NS) Kang explained that during competitions, each powerlifter is given three tries to complete a round. With each try, competitors would push themselves to take on heavier weights to win the coveted title.

"During training, some people think that they have hit their max weight with just two reps. But if you keep on going, you'll be surprised by how much more you can lift. It's all in the mind," said the Ngee Ann Polytechnic alumnus.

He also led a disciplined life during National Service (NS). An Administrative Support Assistant (ASA) in the Supply Transport Centre (STC) under the Army Logistics Training Institute, 3SG (NS) Kang carefully planned his training around his daily duties.

The younger of two siblings would wake up at 5am to prepare his meals and head to camp to do sprints and a skipping routine before starting work at 8am. After work, he would train for three hours at the gym till 10pm and repeat the process the next day.

"I am very thankful that my Commanding Officer (CO) was very supportive. He is someone who encourages his soldiers to make the best of their two years," recalled 3SG (NS) Kang with a smile.

Under his CO's encouragement, 3SG (NS) Kang eventually became a Basic Military Training (Vocational) section commander and led a batch of Physical Employment Standards (PES) C recruits for five weeks.

"Having been a (PES C) recruit, I was able to understand them. Some of them had medical appointments, so it was important for me to manage the recruits' time well and ensure that they didn't miss any lessons. I also wanted them to have an unforgettable NS experience."

Mind over matter

By the time you read this, 3SG (NS) Kang might have competed in his third powerlifting competition on 13 Aug and faced his toughest opponent yet, a Caucasian powerlifter from Thailand.

But to the two-time powerlifter champ, such challenges are insignificant and short-lived, simply because he has a permanent one of his own - his slipped disc. Regardless of how tired he may be, he has to do a set of exercises daily to keep his condition in check.

"The slipped disc is going to be there for the rest of my life but I don't think it should stop me from doing what I love. I just have to work around it," 3SG (NS) Kang said matter-of-factly.

Judging by what he has achieved so far, it looks like the sky's the limit.