Despite the odds placed against him, Valen is still wrestling his way out to live his dream.
Valen Low was once scolded by his form teacher for arm-wrestling with his classmates when he was 13.
Undeterred by his teacher, who dubbed the unconventional sport as “a waste of time”, Valen thought: “Okay, screw what you [his teacher] think. I want to pursue my dream.”
Today, Valen leads a squad of 15 members in his competitive club, Singapore Armwrestling. The 22-year-old has competed in 50 competitions in countries like Malaysia, China and Australia. To date, he has won 31 gold medals.
Valen’s fascination with arm-wrestling started in his primary school days, when he competed for fun. The battle of brute strength took over him, and he slowly grew a passion for the sport.
“I used to love the feeling [of being] stronger than my opponents with just one hand. Over the years, it grew into something serious. It brought something better out of me, an intangible burning passion,” said the Republic Polytechnic graduate.
After being mocked by his form teacher, he was set to prove her wrong. He was also determined to make the sport more recognised in Singapore.
Chasing after his arm-wrestling dreams, however, was no easy feat.
In late 2010, Valen dipped into his savings and travelled to Malacca for his first competition. Unfortunately, he was eliminated in the quarter finals and returned home without a medal.
A year later, Valen failed his ‘O’ levels as he neglected his studies. His concerned parents asked him to stop his arm-wrestling activities to focus on his studies instead.
“It made me hungrier to win even more and succeed in the sport,” he said firmly.
His passion for arm-wrestling was rekindled when he met his teacher and former S-League football player, Jeykanth Jeyapal, while pursuing his studies at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).
Jeykanth empathised with Valen about the struggles of a budding sportsman in Singapore.
“He was different from my secondary school teachers. He gave me emotional support and pushed me to do better,” said the athlete, whose right arm is stronger than his left.
Since there weren’t any arm-wrestling coaches he could engage, Valen watched hours’ worth of YouTube videos on arm-wrestling instead. Through his self-training, he learnt some gripping techniques and isometric exercises that he could do in the gym. He also picked up exercises to help him with recovery and rehabilitation.
While strains and sprains are normal, more serious injuries include bone fractures. Valen, who has his fair share of injuries, recently had three torn ligaments in his left arm.
However, he feels no pain and his training is not affected.
He worked out four days a week at his school gym to improve his strength, arm-wrestled twice a week at his house with his friends, and maintained a low carbohydrate diet during competition periods.
His hard work paid off when he clinched five gold medals in Malaysian competitions like the ‘Pahang Metro Armwrestling’ and ‘Over Time Armwrestling Johor’ in 2011. After his parents noticed how dedicated he was towards the sport, Valen finally won their support. They even travelled to Malaysia with him to cheer him on.
The well-built athlete started to earn a following too. After setting up a Facebook page for Singapore Armwrestling, his club grew in size.
In 2014, Valen had up to 15 sweaty men, aged between 17 and 50 years old, groaning and flexing their muscles in his four-room HDB flat at Yishun, all in the name of training. He even bought an official arm-wrestling table for the club with the help from one of his members, senior project manager Dave Hum, 50.
Valen eventually requested a space at the residents’ corner in Yishun, so they could train comfortably. His request was approved and in June last year, Singapore Armwrestling finally found a new home, where they currently train every Sunday.
Valen, who recently graduated with a diploma in health management and promotion from Republic Polytechnic, is currently waiting to be enlisted for National Service. Knowing he will be away from the arm-wrestling scene for about two years, Valen vows to train at least once a week with his team.
His dream for now? Valen wants to bring home the gold medal at the ‘World Armwrestling Championships’ one day. He also has a bigger vision for the sport in Singapore.
“My ultimate dream is not for people to know that ‘Valen Low’ is strong, but for people to recognise that all Singaporeans are strong. I want people to see Singapore as a world class arm-wrestling scene one day,” said Valen, who is determined to bring glory to Singapore through the sport that he loves.
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