Terence Chia strides into the Mothership office with the steady gait of a practiced athlete, offering a firm handshake as we exchange greetings.
The 24-year-old, who does strength training, muay thai, judo, and rock climbing, is just getting started on a degree course, after taking a somewhat unconventional route, overcoming bullying, academic difficulties, and injury in the process.
Chia shares his past struggles with unflinching poise and a steely gaze, but speaks more animatedly when sharing about his plans for his future career in sports.
Long route through education system
Chia’s journey through the education system took him longer than he had initially expected.
He went from Normal (Academic) stream in secondary school to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College East, where he obtained a certificate in Sports Management before going on to complete not one but two diploma courses at PSB Academy.
Now, at age 24, Chia has progressed to Edinburgh Napier University's Bachelor of Science Sport and Exercise Science (Top-up), also at PSB Academy.
Diagnosed with ADHD before primary school
Diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at the age of five, he ended up being bullied for it when a teacher inadvertently let slip that he was on medication to manage its symptoms.
Primary and secondary school proved challenging for Chia, to put it mildly.
Chia remembers that some of his schoolmates would pester him with questions like “if you don’t take your medicine, will you kill me ah?” and “If you don’t take your medicine, will you go crazy?”
He was also called a “mental child”, just one example of bullying that went on for more than 10 years, Chia says.
To make matters worse, the condition affected his studies, particularly in math and science, which would scare him, he adds.
Common symptoms of ADHD in children are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
“Why I hated math is because math is also correlations, right?” says Chia, explaining that he had difficulties in applying mathematical formulas to solve problems.
“I’m really unable to do that, even up till today,” he says.
And because much of the science curriculum in primary and secondary school required math, he naturally did poorly at those too, even while he did better in Social Studies and History (“the only B3 I got for O-Levels,” he says).
Chia opted not to accept an offer of additional time for his O-Level examinations, preferring that his condition not be reflected on his official educational record.
“Even if I don’t do well, or I do well, at least I know I followed the same route,” Chia says, recalling how he insisted on not having extra time.
The result? 27 points.
Rejecting the extra time came from a dogged determination to walk his own path, even if it disadvantaged him in terms of his O-Level grades.
But that is far from the end of the story.
Overcoming problems head-on
At the age of 18, Chia went against the advice of his doctors and stopped taking his ADHD medication.
While the medication did help with some of the symptoms of ADHD, it would leave him “very dazed”.
Besides wanting to break off his dependence on it, Chia was also afraid that his body was building up tolerance to the drug, which would necessitate higher and higher dosages.
Chia turned instead to exercise to help modulate his behaviour, and found that he was able to wean himself off of the medication that he had been taking for years.
This was a big part of why Chia is choosing to press on in his chosen field of sports and exercise, even though it involves a fair bit of math and science.
In an upcoming module on biomechanics, for example, Chia is expecting that he will be required to do a fair bit of math — which he still struggles with.
His game plan: “study earlier, read a bit more.”
As for science, he’s gotten over his earlier fear of the subject and is plunging into it head-on.
He’s helped by the fact that the science curriculum he is now going through is much more focused on application than theoretical knowledge.
Chia’s eyes light up as he animatedly recalls a moment of realisation when he managed to figure out the theory behind a muay thai move.
“Why do you need to rotate your hips so much just to get one kick out?” was a question Chia pondered, before realising through trial and error that the right technique helped to generate much more power.
“When I rotate right, woah!” Chia exclaims, shaking his head almost as if he is discovering it for the first time.
Many of Chia’s classes involve spending time at the Sports Science Laboratory, where students have the opportunity to put concepts taught in classrooms into practice. Instructors encourage all of the students to try out the techniques or movements for themselves.
For example, when Chia and his classmates were being taught to conduct an agility test, each of them were made to go through the test themselves, so that they would be able to understand athletes’ common errors in the test and administer it more effectively in future.
In contrast to how he studied for his O-Level examinations, which Chia says were “very much about remembering”, applying concepts in real life means that the knowledge “sticks with you for life”.
Chia says that he spends up to 40 to 50 per cent of his curriculum time in the Sports Science Laboratory, with the remaining time spent in tutorial sessions.
Tutorial sessions are “naturally, theoretically, really dry”, Chia says, but explains that they are also geared towards interactive learning and application. For example, one of his modules involved the class looking at videos of exercises and being asked to pinpoint errors, as well as potential consequences.
Chia has also taken his learning out of school. He is on track to graduate with his degree in 2022, and is already clocking in valuable work experience as a fitness instructor at an Active SG gym, and a freelance strength conditioning trainer at a muay thai gym.
He has had his mind set on making a career for himself in sports, as a sports therapist.
And pursuing his Sports and Exercise Science qualifications at PSB Academy has certainly helped him along. His instructors serve as role models for him, in the way they teach, advise and correct him and his classmates.
He’s also benefited from having a diverse range of classmates, some of whom are national athletes and “add value to the learning” through sharing their experiences. On the other hand, classmates who joined the course without prior background in sports bring a different dimension to classes by asking more questions, prompting deeper discussions in class.
This, Chia explains, makes learning more enjoyable as it allows the class to dive deeper into the topics being taught.
Besides sports therapy, Chia is also interested in going into the area of physical therapy, and aims to set up an “inclusive gym” where the frail elderly, and those with physical disabilities can undergo physical therapy alongside regular gym users.
This idea, Chia says, came from spending time in the Sports Science Laboratory, which has much of the same equipment that would be used in a sports clinic.
Getting familiar with the equipment, together with “the right teaching” gave Chia confidence that he would be able to help patients through physical therapy.
Chia perks up as he lists the conditions that he intends to tackle, as if he was running through a list of bullet points in his head.
Torn knee ligaments, slipped discs, frozen shoulders, and toe injuries are common sports injuries which Chia says can be managed with physical therapy as part of the rehabilitation process.
“I believe that they… don’t just come overnight,” Chia says, emphasising that part of sports therapy involves taking time to correct improper technique, which many athletes ignore in their pursuit of “fast fitness” — a term which Chia uses to decry social media marketing that advertises quick and easy gains.
But it’s not just those with sports injuries that need such therapy. Those with neuromuscular conditions, such as recovering stroke patients, can see benefits too.
“Some of them, they’re plonked at the TV… but instead of that, why not just get them to walk? Get a bit of ‘10,000 steps a day’. Then they live a better life, they live longer.”
Chia’s passion for the field is evident, as he goes on enthusiastically about the potential he sees in this area.
But Chia didn’t always know that he was going to make a career out of sports and exercise, despite being involved in muay thai since he was 15.
In fact, after his time at ITE, he took up his first diploma course (for a Diploma in Business Administration) at PSB Academy as it was one of the few courses that would allow him to defer his enlistment in the army.
“I thought it was a cert[ificate] that I can just take, just take and get it done with,” Chia says, candidly admitting that this was “quite a stupid decision”, as he realised that his passion did not lie in business.
Ironically, it was “stupid” decisions and setbacks that helped him move forward; poor grades for the initial diploma, as well as a crippling sports injury actually brought him closer to discovering the area he would be able to find purpose — sports science.
Setbacks turning into opportunity
A Judo injury Chia picked up in his ITE days flared up again during his National Service (NS), while Chia was running down the stairs. With the benefit of hindsight, Chia suspects that this had something to do with his overtraining during muay thai, even when he could feel that his knee was a little unstable.
But his experience in going through physiotherapy as part of recovery was one of the pivotal factors that led him to see that exercise could well become his niche.
In the course of going through physiotherapy exercises, Chia found that he was able to pick up the movements very quickly, and had an intuitive understanding of the movements that his therapists asked him to do.
While observing other gym users doing weight training, he would ask himself questions such as:
“When I look at people lifting weights, it always occurred to me like, eh, why this person’s back looks so different? Why does this person’s leg look so small, although he’s lifting so heavy?”
It was at this point that he decided to take on a second diploma course (for a Diploma in Sport and Exercise Sciences) after NS.
Returning to PSB Academy for second diploma
Explaining why he chose to return to PSB Academy for his second diploma, Chia explained that the duration of the course was a major factor.
Having already taken a longer route through ITE and a Business diploma he didn’t really want, he did not want a program that would cost him another two or three years.
The diploma would also serve to accelerate his progress toward his degree, by allowing him to skip modules that had been covered at the diploma level, going directly to the second year of the degree course.
As he has plans to get married before 30, a shorter course was preferable.
He admits that this made for a more intense school experience, but manages himself by treating weekdays as “work days” where he will “push as hard as possible [and] do [his] best”, while Saturdays are more flexible, and Sundays are strictly for him to spend time with those closest to him.
And of course, exercise sessions, as well as time playing the guitar, help him de-stress, Chia says.
“Thank goodness I’m still surviving,” says Chia with a laugh, after listing out his various extra-curricular commitments, which include community service, teaching in Sunday School at his church, and of course, his work as a freelance trainer.
This isn’t at all to say that Chia dreads his time in school — it is quite the opposite.
“I happen to have two of the best lecturers,” Chia boasts, singling out Nick Tan and Mark Tan (who are unrelated) for special praise.
Nick is able to explain concepts starting from the fundamentals, says Chia. “He doesn’t BS you and just tell you, ‘go and do ABCD’, but rather, he explains how A leads to B, how B leads to C, and then on.”
Chia also sees the value in Mark’s straightforward, no-nonsense instructional style, recalling how he was once told, in the gym, “if you’re not going to do this, then you’re going to just break your back.”
In a class called “Principles of Weight Training” that Chia took as part of his diploma, Chia recounts how Mark taught the class in a way that facilitated the students’ learning more about the subject on their own, instead of spoon-feeding them content.
All of this only helped to reinforce his conviction to pursue his path in sports and exercise.
Ahead of his peers
While some of Chia’s schoolmates have already started full-time jobs, he sees himself as being ahead of them in life, at least as far as mindsets are concerned.
He knows of some who “hate their life” at work, despite being well-to-do. “Life is hard,” Chia says, but we have it within ourselves to “find reasons to love a job” and make the best of one’s situation.
“There [are] different routes,” Chia muses, some faster, and some slower. But “never look at a man’s education route as a measure of how good he is,” he says.
Having taken a longer path through challenges in life, it appears that Chia has built up a resolute confidence toward the road ahead of him, difficult as it might be.
Chia says of his mindset: “all the way, push on, just push on.”
PSB Academy is holding an Online Open House on Saturday, January 16, 2021, from 11am to 5pm.
Course rebates of up to S$12,000 are also on offer, for a limited time period of January 16 to 23. If you apply for a course during this period, you'll stand a chance to win a MacBook Pro.
There will also be Live Talks, giving you a sneak peek of PSB Academy’s courses.
Topics covered include:
- Intro to Graphics Design
- Medical Innovations and Challenges ahead in developing the Covid-19 Vaccine
- Progression after N-Level
- Design Thinking - More Than A Buzzword
There will also be an MBA preview and sharing from past graduates.
Live Consultations with Programme Consultants will also be held, for potential students to find out more about the available courses and apply for places.
Sign up for the Open House or get more information here.
This sponsored article by PSB Academy made the writer feel like going to lift some weights.