Beating cancer to the punch

Cancer once wrecked his body, but Kumar Perumal fought back to become a boxing coach.

Camillia Dass

Published: 14 April 2016, 11:32 PM

One look at Kumar Perumal and you would not have imagined that this fit young boxer with a cheery smile was once a cancer patient.

At his worst, Kumar was all of 48 kg, hooked up to tubes in the hospital, and bed ridden for three to six days every time he had to go for a treatment.

In fact, the diagnosis was a huge blow to the teenager and his family. To beat the cancer, Kumar had to undergo a total of six chemotherapy and 33 radiotherapy sessions.

The combination made the food-loving teenager lose an incredible amount of weight and burned off most of his taste buds, which affected his sense of taste. Kumar talked mournfully about how horrible it was that he could no longer enjoy his mother’s cooking which was his favourite.

“Everything I ate made me feel like throwing up,” he said.

Thankfully his suffering was not for naught, and the treatment worked. Kumar was cancer-free a year later.

After he recovered, the self-proclaimed naughty kid took up boxing, after being introduced by a friend. He had always loved sports and wanted to pick up something new to celebrate his recovery.

A young Kumar on his birthday.

“My mum was against it at first. She was worried that I would get myself hurt again, especially since I had just recovered. She eventually warmed up to the idea,” said the 23-year-old boxer.

When Kumar first started training in a gym in Farrer Park, he noticed that boxing was helping find a renewed sense of purpose in his life.

The former taekwondo student said proudly: “Through boxing, I regained my strength mentally and physically.”

However, life threw him another punch when he was due for National Service (NS) in 2012. He was exempted from service due to his medical history. “It was a big blow because I wanted to sign on to the army,” said Kumar sadly.

Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he decided to use the two years to his advantage. He enrolled himself in Republic Polytechnic and graduated with a diploma in sports and exercise sciences three years later. He became a personal trainer at 20.

Kumar at his graduation ceremony in 2014

After working for three months as a personal trainer at a gym, he realised that personal training was not what he wanted. “It was too sales driven, and people thought I was too young,” he lamented, with a look of mild disgust.

Since he loved boxing and training people, he started toying with the idea of starting his own boxing gym.

“I told my mum and uncle about my idea. My mum was very supportive. She told me that now was the time to take risks and that even if I failed, I would not have to worry much because I always had my family to fall back on,” said Kumar, with a smile.

Kumar(LEFT) with his mother and brother.

In Jul 2014, Kumar was set on becoming a boxing trainer. He started off by lugging his boxing gloves and a punching bag in his car. He drove to outdoor spots like void decks and playgrounds to train the handful of friends who had joined to support him.

“I would hook up the punching bags to monkey bars and things like that,” he said fondly.

Kumar with the punching bad that he used to train his customers.

Gradually, Kumar felt that his days of training under a void deck had to stop. He recalled uncomfortably about how difficult it was when it started raining and how badly it reflected on his business, as he did not have a proper training space.

He saved whatever money he had left from his time as a personal trainer and set up his own gym in late 2014. Located in a cosy place in Yishun, he named his gym ‘King of Strength’.


His friends, while initially sceptical of his idea, were his first gym members. Soon, they roped in their friends. His customer base slowly grew from 10 to 50. He now works with two other staff members and a few trainers.

The free-spirited Kumar is now planning to expand his gym and is eager to see which direction his business takes him.

Clearly a firm believer of starting young, Kumar passionately said: “Just try. You will never know if it is yes or no. Even if you fail, you will still have your family and friends. So, just try now.”

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