Desire to excel prompts Singapore floorballer to train abroad
Siraaj puts job on hold for 40-day Finland stint
National floorballer Siraaj Ramadhan is not one to be easily contented with his skills.
So when an opportunity to train with Finnish champions SC Classic came along, he jumped at it - even if it meant having to make sacrifices.
Siraaj, who works as a full-time floorball coach, has had to forego his income while he undergoes a 40-day training stint in the southern Finnish city of Tampere.
Eating out is an issue due to the costs and availability of halal food, but the 25-year-old has adapted by sourcing for halal ingredients and cooking his own meals.
Then, there is also the freezing weather.
Temperatures in the Nordic country can drop to as low as -21 deg C, but he just endures it all.
Siraaj, who was part of the Singapore floorball team who won gold at the 2015 SEA Games on home soil, would not have it any other way.
The training stint with SC Classic Academy, who have produced top players such as 2017 Finland Player of the Year Nico Salo, Sami Johansson and Krister Savonen, was a priceless opportunity that he did not want to miss.
"I had to take it," Siraaj told The New Paper in a long-distance phone interview.
"I'm not contented at being at my current level. I want to be better, I know I can be better.
"I heed my parents' advice seriously as I see them as my pillar of strength. So when they said I should go, I knew there was no stopping me."
To finance the trip, Siraaj dipped into his savings.
"When I was informed of the chance to go over, I had less than a month before I had to leave for Tampere," said Siraaj, who departed for Finland on Feb 20.
"So it was tough to raise funds at such a short notice. Inevitably, I wiped out my savings. I also launched a crowdfunding campaign to help ease the financial burden."
It was not an option for Siraaj to go at a later date, as the club would be heavily involved in the league play-offs. If he had missed this opportunity, it might not come again.
"I didn't want to postpone the trip to raise funds as it felt too much of a risk. As such, I thought I'd just have to make it work along the way," he said.
To reduce expenses, Siraaj, who is also a certified strength and conditioning coach, has learnt to cook his own food, despite not having prepared meals previously.
"The cost of living in Finland is very high. A Subway meal here costs 12.90 euros (S$20.90)," he said.
"Also, the right kind of nutrition is very important to an athlete. So being particular can be limiting, especially since it is hard to get access to halal food.
"So I buy halal-certified ingredients and cook my own meals. The bright side of that is I've picked up another life skill."
Nothing seems to dampen Siraaj's spirit, not even the damning weather. With temperatures hitting as low as -21 deg C, the biting cold was brutal in the initial days.
"My hands and face got so cold so fast, it was very painful. It was so terrible that I just preferred not to travel and explore, but just stay indoors. Thankfully, it has got better."
What hasn't improved for the family-oriented Siraaj, however, has been his feeling of homesickness. He misses his parents, wife and close friends very much.
He said: "The players here have tight schedules, having to balance training and school or work, therefore I tend to be on my own a lot.
"So being away from loved ones can be even more difficult to handle.To make matters worse, I dropped my mobile phone while recording one of the training sessions and damaged it, so the only reliable means of communication with my wife and parents is through WhatsApp on my laptop."
Despite the challenges, Siraaj, who turns out for Black Wondersticks in the Singapore Floorball League, would not have done anything differently as he feels his sacrifices will not be in vain.
He said: "Floorball is my passion and excelling at my trade is of utmost importance to me. I have learnt so much from the intensive training regimen that I have been undertaking here.
"I have grown as a player and, in my capacity as a coach, I feel there is so much knowledge I can impart to the Singapore floorball community as a whole."
Singapore floorball coach Matti Joutsikoski, who is preparing the national team for December's World Floorball Championship in the Czech Republic, has only positive words for his charge.
"I'm delighted for Siraaj," said Joutsikoski.
"He is very dedicated and committed to his craft. The effort he puts to developing his skills in floorball and also as a strength and conditioning coach, I tip my hat off to Siraaj.
"Classic SC are one of the best teams in the world, are current reigning champions in Finland and have an extensive history of producing world-class players and coaches.
"It is a great opportunity not only for Siraaj to raise his standard, but also for him to bring some of the Singapore flavour to Finland floorball."