Powerlifting bros hope the plug won't be pulled
Teens' promising sporting careers look set to be curtailed after graduation
They are only teenagers, but brothers Matthew Yap, 19, and Matthias, 18, have already won multiple medals at Asian powerlifting meets and hold several national records.
Yet, the ongoing Asian Classic Powerlifting Championships in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, could be their last shot at international glory.
Citing national service (NS) and Powerlifting Singapore's failure to attain a national sports association (NSA) status, both Matthew and Matthias do not see themselves continuing in the sport for long, despite their immense talents and success.
Matthew and Matthias will be competing in the Under-74kg junior category and U-74kg sub-junior category respectively today.
The strength sport requires competitors to perform three lifts - the squat, bench press and deadlift.
They took up the sport after being inspired by eldest brother Marcus, 24, a former two-time world-record holder who has become their coach.
Matthew, a second-year media production and design student at Republic Polytechnic, told The New Paper: "Upon graduation, I will be enlisting for NS, so that could put powerlifting to a stop...
"Getting back into it won't be easy, it may take a while to be competitive again.
"During NS, you tend to stay in and train most of the week, so two training days (for powerlifting) a week are not sufficient as compared to now when I train five days a week.
"Also, in NS, you are training and doing a lot of cardio among other exercises which put stress on your body which we, as powerlifters, avoid so as to recover in time for our next session."
It is not just the lack of recovery time due to NS commitments that can hinder a powerlifter's progress, but also the kind of training that full-time national servicemen usually undertake or "loose gains" as Matthew describes it.
"When powerlifter friends of mine enter NS, we have this term we use 'loose gains'," he said.
We can’t take this as our career because we are just bleeding money.Powerlifter Matthias Yap, who said his siblings and him have spent $30,000 of their savings on the sport
"It is when they do physical activities and lose muscle mass, then they are way below in terms of performance... "
Matthew is well aware that he is unlikely to get time-off for training once he gets enlisted.
The situation is unlikely to improve after NS, when the brothers would be looking to enter the workforce.
"For now, as much as we want to stay on for the long term, Matthew and I are taking powerlifting as a hobby unless the sports (body) becomes an NSA," said Matthias, who recently completed his diploma in pastry and baking from Shatec.
"We can't take this as our career because we are just bleeding money. Even when we win medals, we don't get monetary rewards."
The three brothers said they have exhausted $30,000 of their savings to cover expenses for training, apparel, equipment, supplements and competitions.
The financial strain has been alleviated with Matthias getting support from the Chiam See Tong Sports Fund.
Said Marcus: "We don't have a choice, ultimately you want to put food on the table…
"Of course, we would like to do it long term, but being sustainable is about providing value. If we are able to get value, if financially we are able, then that would be the best case scenario."
Added Matthew: "I'm mentally prepared for this eventuality (cutting his powerlifting dreams short)."
For now, both Matthew and Matthias are focused on the Asian Classic Powerlifting Championships and Marcus just wants his siblings to give their best. "I only want them to perform to the best of their ability," he said.
Singapore are represented by a 17-man contingent at the Dec 4-8 meet.