Getting a lift from Singaporeans

18-year-old Matthew, our new world record holder, has been stranded at the Belarus airport for over 30 hours and counting.

David Yip

Published: 22 June 2017, 1:26 PM

Just three days after setting a new world record at the World Classic Powerlifting Championships, Matthew was looking forward to celebrating with family and friends at home.

He never expected that his first reward would be getting stuck at the airport in Belarus. Matthew and his brother Marcus, 23, have been stranded there for over 30 hours due to visa issues.

Speaking to Youth.SG on the phone from Minsk National Airport, Matthew, 18, who had just woken up from a nap, shared about his ordeal for the past 30 hours.

Marcus and Matthew had to take turns to sleep, while the other guarded their luggage. PHOTO CREDIT: MARCUS YAP

He said they have been killing time by watching YouTube videos.

“I am watching the IPF (International Powerlifting Federation) live stream. Other than that, we are just killing time waiting for our visas. I’m just thankful for the fact we found a place to charge our phones,” he said.

The brothers have been ‘staying’ at a café in the airport, as it is the only place they could charge their phones.

Matthew and Marcus had arrived at the Minsk airport at about 10am yesterday (3pm Singapore time yesterday), when they were informed they did not have a visa and could not leave Minsk.

“Only when we were leaving Belarus were we informed that we needed a visa if we stayed longer than five days. We were shocked as we did not know this,” said the Republic Polytechnic student, who is studying media production and design.

Initially, officials at the airport wanted the brothers to pay a fine of S$931 (€600) and wanted to deport them. However, after learning that the teenagers did not have any money, the fine was waived and the brothers were told to get their own flights home.

“We came with just enough money and did not have more,” said Matthew.

The brothers had spent about $5,500 to finance their trip to Belarus for the competition.

“I had to work a part-time job after my O levels to save for this trip,” explained Matthew, who had worked as a service staff in a Korean eatery for three months.

They promptly informed their parents in Singapore.

“We were stuck, we did not know what to do and our parents were worried sick,” said Matthew, who won three medals in the competition.

Matthew waiting to sort out visa issues. PHOTO CREDIT: MATTHEW YAP

While their parents contacted Singapore authorities for help, a member in their powerlifting group chat started to crowdfund for money for their flights home.

Within an hour, their goal of S$935 (€603) was reached. The cost of the flight tickets were lowered, thanks to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who spoke to Lufthansa airlines.

“We are so thankful for the people who donated to us which allowed us to buy our plane tickets,” said Matthew.

The experience of getting stranded at the airport has been the most challenging, after multiple struggles he faced while preparing for the championships.

“The challenges began around two weeks before my competition as I was dealing with a lower back injury and this made it hard for me to complete my training. I had to take painkillers to get through the pain,” said Matthew, who trains five days a week.

Matthew started powerlifting when he was 15 and broke his first world-record after three years. PHOTO CREDIT: POWERLIFTING SINGAPORE

Even 30 minutes before the competition, which was his second overseas competition, Matthew encountered a cramp that made him unable to move his leg.

He recalled: “I was stuck in a position and was hoping that I could get to my warm-up session because I wanted to compete.”

He ended up skipping his second attempt, so that he could recover for his third and final attempt.

“My brother Marcus told me it was better to skip one attempt and go for the record in my third attempt, because I can save up more energy and not make my injury worse,” said Matthew.

Marcus, who also powerlifts, is Matthew’s coach.

That short rest worked in his favour. On his next attempt, Matthew broke the record with 208kg in the men’s Under-66kg sub-junior division (14- to 18-year-old).

“I was just emotional and relieved that I was able to do it,” he said.

Right now, Matthew and Marcus are still waiting for their visas, and are hoping to board their flight back to Singapore by tomorrow.

“I hope we will be able to get our visas quickly, so we can get a hotel tonight,” he said.

So what is Matthew looking forward to when he returns to Singapore?

“I really want to eat cai png (economy rice). I also want to go out with my friends and chill, maybe eat some prata,” he said.

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