Louis Sue, 24, Pole Dancer (@louis_sjz)

Confident, well-spoken and good-looking, Louis began his pole dancing journey in 2014 when he was inspired by Anastasia Sokolova on Ukraine’s Got Talent (video below). At that point in time, he was choosing between breakdancing and the pole, and Sokolova’s performance tipped the scale for him.

Today, he’s the most prolific male pole dancer in Singapore and has won a myriad of competitions and awards. What might surprise most people though was that Louis was not always this way. He professed that he had many hang-ups about his body, brought about by the media. “I was very insecure about my looks. I would leave my shirt on even at home. Even when I started pole dancing, I was the student with the most clothes on,” Louis shared.

It took him a year of pole dancing before he gathered the courage to remove his top. “It dawned on me that this sport is more important to me than the self-consciousness I felt about my body. Many people think that pole dancing is sleazy because we show so much skin but honestly, we need our skin to be in contact with the pole so that we can grip it better.”

Another common stigma he has to battle concerns his sexuality. No one sees the strength, grace and artistic merit of his dance. All they want to know is the side he’s batting for. For the record, Louis is straight. His girlfriend is also a pole dancer and they are both instructors at Pole Lab. “It can be very frustrating at times. My girlfriend has to deal with this problem too. I want to show the world that straight men can pole dance as part of their fitness goals. And you don’t have to be super fit. You can be sitting in front of the computer your whole life but still be able to pole dance. All you need is the confidence to try.”

Edwin Ong, 26, Juggler (@edwincirque)

Perhaps it was the relative ease with which Edwin Ong juggled five cigar cases or the smile that never left his face, but soon, the photographer, his assistant and even myself tried to juggle the props he brought. Naturally, gravity won, time and time again.

“I picked up juggling when I was 14. And I practised three to four hours every day,” said Edwin by way of explaining his preternatural skills. But he professed that it came at the expense of his studies. He was retained for a year after failing his ‘N’ levels and did some soul searching. With the encouragement of his teachers, he kept the juggling props in cold storage and focused on his studies.

But you cannot keep a good juggler down. Edwin picked it up again when he was in polytechnic and has not stopped since. “I started again because I needed to pay for school. But it became a love-hate relationship because it became a job. For me, juggling is sport and not for entertainment. I felt that people were judging me when I juggled. They wanted a character, not a man serious about the art. But I began to embrace it after realising how much joy I brought to people.”

Even though Edwin is in university now, he still regularly practises a few hours a week. “I prioritise my studies now. The dream is to travel and juggle but I cannot afford it,” Edwin grimly said. The smile temporarily left his face.

Firdaus Firdrishah, 29, Calisthenics (@firdaus_streetstrength)

Firdaus’ limbs flow from one position to the next. One moment, he is doing a centre split. The next, he is up in a handstand. “I love how the blood flows to my head in a handstand,” he laughs.

Firdaus wasn’t always this jovial. He used to be a hot-headed teenager. During National Service, he was sent to the Detention Barracks for insubordination. He spent 24 days inside but was unrepentant. “Then I fought with my father. We pushed each other and he warned me that defying him was akin to defying God. I wasn’t religious at the time but his words left me shivering for some reason.” Two days later, Firdaus was in an accident. He got hit by a private ambulance. His bike was totaled and the front bumper of the emergency vehicle was smashed in. But Firdaus was unscathed, save for a few cuts. “That accident changed my life. I decided to use my passion in fitness to motivate other people.” So Firdaus started the Singapore Calisthenics Academy. Soon, his proficiency in the discipline led to social media fame, invitations to judge calisthenics competitions overseas and a coaching job with TripleFit.

“I have thrown away my ego. Now whenever I feel like smashing someone, I smash the bars instead. But don’t call me a master. I still have a lot to learn.”

Farhan Mazlan, 25, Muay Thai Practitioner (@farhanmazlann)

“What do you want to be when you grow up? Do you just want to be a despatch rider your whole life? What will you learn? How to read receipts?” It’s been seven years since Farhan was asked those questions but he still keeps the words close to his chest.

Farhan admitted that he was a very headstrong teenager whom nobody liked.

“I went around looking for trouble. I’ve been chased by groups of gangsters.” Then he took up an internship with the now-defunct Hilltop The Gym, working at the front desk. What was a simple six-month internship consumed his whole life and changed it in ways he could not imagine. His words became softer and humbler. He found a tough-talking mentor. And he developed physically and mentally into the man he is now. 

Today, Farhan is a firefighter, a Muay Thai coach with Transcendence MMA, and a business owner. He runs FM Academy, a mobile training service that teaches Muay Thai to their clients wherever they are. He is also studying part-time for a diploma in sports coaching with Republic Polytechnic. That might seem like a lot of responsibilities to handle, but fighters are a different breed. When you spend so much of your life repeatedly getting hit by blows, nothing else in life fazes you.

“I love the pain I get from fighting. It reminds me that I am alive.”

 Bruce Dierl, 31, Handstand Guru (@brucedierl)

It took Bruce Dierl four years to master the one-arm handstand. And while it might feel like a long period of time, you must take into account that Bruce had a day job for those four years. Now, the half-German, half-Chinese gymnast is a full-time coach with BodyTree GST

Bruce has a methodical approach to fitness and seemingly impossible physical feats. “When you look at the end goal, it might seem tough. But all you need to do is to break it down into steps and then, embark on the first step. What is more important is the commitment to taking that step.”

Commitment is not a problem for the humble Bruce. He thrives on physical challenges and testing the limits of his body. Rain or shine, work or not, he trains three hours a day, seven days a week and has been doing so since he was seven. What drives him? “Honestly, I just think fitness is fun.”

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Five Everyday Athletes Defying Expectations
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