SINGAPORE - Arm wrestling champion Valen Low treats his sport seriously and not as a novelty that many people here may consider it to be.
He will use the $1,000 prize money he received for winning last month's Shin Min Arm Wrestling Challenge to finance his competition in Melbourne next month. In fact, the 20-year-old polytechnic student has spent $5,000 competing in Malaysia since he took part in his first competition, the Malacca Open, in December 2010.
Across the Causeway, he was a junior champion in 2011 and climbed to the No. 1 spot against rivals in Sabah and Indonesia in competitions last year.
Valen says the World Armwrestling Federation does not organise arm wrestling contests in Singapore and there is no official body for the sport here. His mother Goh Poh Choo, 58, a cook at a country club where his father is a chef, says she is willing to let international arm wrestlers bunk in at their five-room HDB flat in Yishun should they visit Singapore. "It's better to have the practices at my place than him going out and mixing with bad company," she explains.
His father, Mr Low Fook Cheong, 55, is also rooting for him, but feels "it will be worth it only" if he has Singapore Sports Council funding. Valen, the elder of two sons, got hooked on arm wrestling at around 13 after he watched the sport online. Fascinated by it, he began an informal arm wrestling league in school, incurring his teachers' displeasure for distracting his peers.
Studies held no interest for Valen, who went to Townsville Primary and Whitley Secondary schools. He scored 32 points for his O levels and it was only at ITE College Central, where he took a community sports and recreation course, that he became interested in studying.
Now a health management and promotion student at Republic Polytechnic, he has a grade point average of 3.4. He says: "It's not that the students are incapable. It's that their abilities are dormant and it's up to the educators to draw out that potential. I want to study sports science at Nanyang Technological University in two years."
Now that Valen is doing well in his studies, you must be pleased as parents.
Madam Goh: His good grades are a surprise but I didn't give up hope even when he went to ITE because education is never wasted, and the skills learnt there will be useful and relevant in the future.
Mr Low: It was a surprise for me too but I never gave up hope as he's my son - I have to support him. But he's just getting started. There's still a long way to go and I'd like him to get a degree or even study further.
How close are you to your brother, Kenji?
Madam Goh: They were born 11 months apart, so they were in the same class in primary and secondary schools, except for Primary 6 and Secondary 1 and 2.
Valen: We had the same group of friends to play soccer, basketball and computer games with. Now we hang out with them weekly for movies and dinners.