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Being there for them

DAC (NS) Mohammad Nurizham Shah Bin Abdullah isn’t just a father figure to his own children — he’s also one to ex-offenders integrating back into society.

TEXT Keenan Pereira

Throughout his 22 years of National Service, DAC (NS) Mohammad Nurizham Shah Bin Abdullah has helped to put a number of offenders behind bars. The 48-year-old started his service in Jurong Police Division before being transferred to the Public Transport Security Command (TransCom), where he is now NS Commander. “Our men have arrested people for various offences, from drug-related crimes to outrage of modesty,” he says.

But DAC (NS) Shah’s interactions with those who run afoul of the law do not stop there. Since 2020, the father of four has been an active volunteer at the Singapore Prison Service (SPS), where he is paired with inmates six months before their release. Support at this point of the prison sentence is crucial, as it can make all the difference to the inmate’s success in rebuilding his/her life upon release.

UNLOCKING THE SECOND ‘PRISON’

Support comes in many forms. Sometimes, it could be as simple as teaching inmates how to use a smartphone. “Some have been in prison for so long that they aren’t aware of the tech advances we’ve had in the past two decades,” says DAC (NS) Shah, who works in telecommunications. “Then there are ex-inmates who call me because they don’t know how to deal with conflict at the workplace, and I guide them through the situation. With appropriate life skills, they would be able to hold a job and leave their old ways.”

Volunteers like DAC (NS) Shah also act as father figures to some of these inmates, whose own families have often lost faith in them. “When they don’t have family support and love, they may fall back into bad company and the prison cycle repeats itself,” he explains.

To break such a vicious cycle, DAC (NS) Shah works closely with SPS to engage the inmates and forge lasting friendships with them. “You have to gain their trust before you can step in to advise and guide them,” he says. To date, DAC (NS) Shah has mentored seven ex-inmates and he is proud to share that none have gone back to their old ways.

The learning isn’t just one-way — DAC (NS) Shah has also gained a lot from the stories and struggles of the inmates. “As you hear about what they have gone through, you realise the importance of family and feel grateful for your blessings. Many times, these folks are just lost and need guidance. And as they turn over a new leaf, their greatest motivation is really to regain the trust that their families once had in them.”

It’s a lesson DAC (NS) Shah brings home to his children, aged 18, 16, 15 and eight. “I want them to grow up with the right values. So, I remind them that it’s not just about academic success, but also the difference you make in people’s lives. I am very encouraged that my oldest girl is now volunteering by tutoring underprivileged children. It goes to show how we can influence our children to be better.”

KEEPING AN ACTIVE MIND AND BODY

Besides the importance of giving back, DAC (NS) Shah encourages his children to be active and healthy. In this regard too, he leads by example. “One of our favourite hobbies is cycling. My older kids and I will cycle from Woodlands to Changi Village, where we will meet my wife, my youngest child and our domestic helper for a good meal.”

These moments of levity are especially precious these days, as DAC (NS) Shah does not have to travel for work. Before the pandemic, he would fly around the continent to oversee his company’s overseas telecom operations. “It is a blessing in disguise. I am very grateful to be able to spend so much time with my family these days.”

“There are some who come out of prison and have nowhere and no one to turn to. I want to be there to help them so that the journey out doesn’t feel so lonely.”

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From pain to passion

Putting off that run yet again? Serial marathoner and passionate cyclist WO(2) Bennett Koong has some simple advice for you.

TEXT: ROY SIM
PHOTOS: BENNETT KOONG

“Just do it” isn’t just the tagline of Nike. It’s also the mantra that got WO(2) Bennett Koong, 36, into the habit of running, which he picked up a few years ago. “I was inspired by my sister. She’s two years younger than me but quite a hardcore runner. Sometimes, she goes for a run even before the family wakes up and only returns when we’re in the middle of breakfast.”

WO(2) Koong wanted to join her but often found himself feeling lazy or lethargic. He admits: “Let’s be honest, it’s comfortable to sleep in and not exercise.”

OFF THE COUCH AND ON THE RUN

WO(2) Koong (middle, behind red Power Ranger) participated in the 2011 Standard Chartered Marathon with his colleagues.

But his sister’s determination to keep fit rubbed off on him and soon, he too was pounding the pavement at Bedok Reservoir.

He started with weekly 5 km runs before progressing to 10 km, 15 km and eventually finishing half-marathons (21 km) and then full marathons (42 km). “You just need to get over the inertia and start,” he advises. “Once it becomes a routine, it’s more likely to stick.”

It also helps to find out what motivates you to exercise. WO(2) Koong, who works as a retail manager, shares that each run is a chance to reset his mind and clear his head. “That’s why I don’t bring my phone or listen to music. Instead, I use my runs as a time to reflect on the day’s events,” he says.

Keeping fit also helps him in his NS role as the CSM of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF)’s 105C MRTSC. Here, he ensures his division’s operations and in-camp trainings run smoothly. “I encourage my unit mates to run as well. They could see a difference in their stamina and were motivated to run even more. It’s the same satisfaction I got during my full-time NS, helping obese recruits pass their IPPT.” The key, he stresses, is consistency. “Bit by bit, you will get fitter and stronger.”

NEW PURSUITS

What started as a weekly way of keeping fit quickly turned into a passion. “I became addicted to running and would progressively increase my distance. Then I started heading overseas for marathons, going to places like Hong Kong and Putrajaya, Malaysia.”

The experience of marathoning in the Special Administrative Region is one of WO(2) Koong’s favourites, as he recalls the entire city coming out in support of the runners. “It was the longest water stop I’ve ever seen,” he says, adding that it stretched for about 200m.

WO(2) Koong’s passion for running hasn’t gone unnoticed: earlier this year, he was invited to join the REAL® Run Committee. In this role, he works with a team of like-minded NSMen to create and run a fun and fulfilling REAL® Run 2021. The 25th edition is ongoing and will end on Nov 9. “It’s an iconic event and I’m glad to be able to contribute ideas to keep it fresh,” he says.

For example, this year’s edition features two new categories — the competitive Leaderboard run encourages people to clock a 5 km run on Sentosa, while the “sole-mate” run focuses on a non-competitive 5km run at Gardens by the Bay. Participants could complete both runs at their own pace, which help motivate runners to finish the 25 km REAL® Run, which is once again held virtually because of COVID-19.

This principle of keeping things fresh also applies to WO(2) Koong’s workout regimen. The avid runner has now turned his attention to cycling, which he picked up during last year’s circuit breaker period. Although he used to ride alone, he now does it with friends, making trips to East Coast Park and Changi Village. “It’s more fun when you have someone to talk to,” he reflects. “More of my friends have picked up cycling since the pandemic started. It’s true what they say: ‘COVID-19 has encouraged exercise’.”

Sailing has also been thrown to the mix, although WO(2) Koong is quick to add that can’t be enjoyed as spontaneously as running or cycling. “It’s fun, but I can only sail when I have carefully planned my schedule.”

GO AT YOUR OWN PACE

There has been much online chatter about 2.4 km timings lately. Although WO(2) Koong clocks in at a modest 12 minutes, he is comfortable with the pace. “Don’t be too bothered about how fast other people are running. Go at your own pace and work on improving that,” he suggests.

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Getting physical

Keeping fit is all in a day’s work for SSSGT (NS) Heiryl Ilham.

TEXT: KEENAN PEREIRA
PHOTOS: SSSGT (NS) HEIRYL ILHAM

SSSGT (NS) Heiryl Ilham values fitness so much that for a period of time, he was downing 20 egg whites every day, just to up his daily protein intake (protein benefits the body in several ways, like helping to build lean muscle and speeding up post-exercise recovery). And without the soy sauce or pepper that many of us would add, mind you. “Just straight-up whites — 10 in the morning and 10 at night,” the 29-year-old says matter-of-factly.

His commitment to a healthy lifestyle started during his teenage years, when he would consistently fail his National Physical Fitness Award (NAPFA) test at school. “I did well for every station except my 2.4 km, which I was completing in about 15 minutes,” SSSGT (NS) Heiryl recalls.

Keen to turn this aspect of his life around, he turned to YouTube to learn more about fitness — and the rest is history. These days, he clocks in at under 10 minutes for his 2.4km runs — a result of training on the treadmill, which he finds highly effective in learning to run faster. This, combined with interval training, has helped SSSGT (NS) Heiryl shed around 27kg (he currently weighs in at a lean 62kg).

FITNESS TOGETHER

Between December 2016 and May 2017, SSSGT (NS) Heiryl Ilham set out to transform himself, losing about 27kg and going from 28 per cent body fat to 8 per cent body fat.

“Be the best that you can be”: This is a tip SSSGT (NS) Heiryl readily shares with his clients at Sport Singapore, where he is a fitness instructor. He also supports his fellow Home Team NSmen through the Virtual Fitness Training (VFT) initiative, which was launched last December.

Every Saturday, SSSGT (NS) Heiryl leads about 40 NSmen in a vigorous High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout that he designed, which comprises an energetic mix of core training, as well as upper and lower body workouts. This complements his NSman role as Officer-in-Charge (OC) Fitness at Clementi Division, where he supervises Remedial Trainings (RT) and oversees the division’s Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) training sessions. In addition, SSSGT (NS) Heiryl serves as a Police Contact Tactical Trainer and IPPT Trainer, training fellow NSmen in a modified self-defence form that combines elements from Wing Chun and judo.

SSSGT (NS) Heiryl is passionate about helping NSmen up their fitness game, especially since many of them support crucial operational work during their reservist cycles — and it’s an experience he knows well.

While on patrol during his first reservist cycle, he and his partner were alerted to an incident of public nuisance. A drunken man was causing a scene outside VivoCity and when the pair approached him, the person refused to cooperate and even tried to attack them. SSSGT (NS) Heiryl acted swiftly to pin him down and arrest him. “Anything can happen in situations like this. That is why we need to be on our best form, even as NSmen,” he shares.

FITTER TOGETHER

Fitness isn’t just an occupation for SSSGT (NS) Heiryl; it’s also a means of bonding with his wife, whom he had met when he was a trainer at a private gym. “She is just as passionate as I am about fitness. We love working out as a couple,” he says.

SSSGT (NS) Heiryl and his wife tied the knot last December. “We had a COVID-19 wedding,” he explains, referring to the smaller and more intimate nuptials that are now the norm because of the pandemic. This meant that the ceremony cost less than one-third what it normally would — money that is going towards their first home in the upcoming Tengah Forest Town development which will be ready in 2024.

For now, the couple is living at home with SSSGT (NS) Heiryl’s family, where they enjoy his mother’s  scrumptious cooking. He admits that he does not really watch what he eats and he is more concerned about when he eats. “That’s because I am very disciplined with my workouts. I may start the day with a packet of nasi lemak but I know for a fact that I will work out hard enough to burn off those calories.”

For most of us who don’t have that kind of determination, he suggests using a simple calorie tracking app to avoid eating excessively. “But there’s no need to go overboard with calculating everything that you eat. That may be too tedious and is not sustainable in the long run,” he adds.

From failing his NAPFA test as a teen to training fellow NSmen to pass their physical fitness tests and helping his fitness clients lead healthier lives, SSSGT (NS) Heiryl has come a long way on his fitness journey. Not only has he come to embody physical fitness, he’s doing his best to help others transform their lifestyles, one rep at a time.

INTERVAL MATTERS

SSSGT (NS) Heiryl is a big proponent of interval training as he has seen its benefits for many clients and himself. Here’s how to start:

  1. Warm up thoroughly
  2. Sprint for 30 seconds at 100 per cent effort
  3. Rest for 1 to 2 minutes
  4. Repeat (2) and (3) at least eight times, at least once a week

IMPORTANT: You should always consult your physician or other healthcare professional before starting this or any other fitness programme to determine if it is right for your needs.

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