WHEN you meet Mr Ching Teng Soon for the first time, you will most likely be struck by his sculpted broad shoulders, muscular arms and legs, golden brown skin and air of confidence.
The 81-year-old is, after all, a former national bodybuilder who won multiple bodybuilding competitions locally and abroad in his twenties.
Mr Ching was first introduced to the sport in 1949 when his older brother brought home a weightlifting set. “I was quite weak when I was young – I had bronchitis and my nose bled frequently. Weightlifting helped improve my strength, power and health,” he said.
“It helped me make an impression on others… I couldn’t be bullied, and I had a nice body too!” he added.
In 1954, the then 19-year-old Mr Ching participated in his first bodybuilding competition, the Junior Mr Singapore contest, and came in third. Three years later, he won third place in the Senior Mr Singapore contest. From 1958 to 1959, he was a Senior Mr Singapore contest runner-up. He also clinched the titles of Mr Bodybuilder/Ironman and The Most Beautiful Body for Malaya/Singapore in 1958, as well as the Mr Hercules title in 1959.
His biggest breakthrough came in 1961 when he emerged champion at the Mr Asia competition in Kuala Lumpur.
“I was at my prime when I was 27,” Mr Ching said.
However, the weight of bodybuilding, work and raising a family with his wife concurrently soon proved to be too heavy, and Mr Ching decided to retire from competitive bodybuilding at 35. Despite that, he never stopped training.
Mr Ching said with a smile: “If you like a sport, you will never quit. A footballer will always enjoy kicking a ball around, and a swimmer always enjoys going to the pool. If you like bodybuilding, wherever you go, you tend to look for a gym.”
After a 32-year long break from competitive bodybuilding, Mr Ching gained the public’s attention when he made a comeback and competed in Singapore’s national bodybuilding championships in 2002. He was 66, the oldest bodybuilder to compete, and was gunning for a spot in the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, South Korea. Despite not making it to the Games, Mr Ching was given a Certificate of Merit by the World Bodybuilding Federation and awarded a Silver Medal.
Last year, Mr Ching flexed his muscles once again for the Open and Masters category at the Mr Singapore Bodybuilding Championship. The competition also marked his 80th birthday and 50th wedding anniversary.
For this competition, the tireless senior trained intensively for three hours every day for nine months, with a regime that comprised cardio workouts, gym training, swimming, brisk walking and jogging.
Despite coming in fifth in the Open and Masters Categories, Mr Ching remained satisfied, having proven his mettle and passion for the sport. For his dedication, Mr Ching was recognised with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Age might be catching up with Mr Ching but his determination to remain active hasn’t wavered. Six days a week, he can be found at the gym or swimming pool. “Normally, I take a heavy breakfast. Then I go to the gym, warm up, and exercise for 1½ to 2 hours,” Mr Ching shared.
“I swim twice a week… short distances with power. I also walk a lot, at Bedok Reservoir and within shopping malls and in the MRT stations when it rains. Walking invigorates me,” he added.
While keeping fit and eating healthily are important to Mr Ching, the grandfather of four enjoys the occasional indulgence in local delights too. “I love good food. Char kway teow, chicken rice, fish and chips… I love them. Of course, this means that I have to exercise harder the next day!” he said with a laugh.
Mr Ching might be 81 but he doesn’t rule out the possibility of participating in future competitions. In fact, he’s thinking of trying out for the World Veteran Athletics next.
“This competition is for those in their 70s and 80s. You can participate in any sports, like weightlifting, taekwondo or swimming. I may just go for it,” he said.
“In any sport, you’ll find it tough at the initial stage. But once you continually do it, you won’t feel it’s tough. Exercise is important for everyone, no matter young or old.
“Keep challenging yourself to do better.”