The Runner Who Never Stops
BY SHENG KAI
Mr C Kunalan loves to run.
He remembers running along the monsoon drains of Pasir Panjang as a young boy. He would try his best to maintain a good pace, so as not to fall off from the slippery slopes.
In his teenage years, he would race his dog Jimmy up a 50m-slope every day, after its morning walk.
“Jimmy would be sprinting away from me and I would have to chase him!” Kunalan said. “I had to make sure it doesn’t stop and cause chaos on the road!”
As the delivery boy of his family, at most times, he would be running — often without shoes.
Sometimes it meant delivering a contest entry to the postbox one kilometre away. At other times, it was just to buy salt from the provision shop not too far away, but across a dense coconut plantation.
Whatever the occasion, the 71-year-old would always race against himself, just to see how fast he can be.
Singapore’s fastest for 33 years
It was probably this unyielding love for running that made Kunalan Singapore’s sprinting legend.
In 1968, Kunalan clocked 10.38s for the 100m event at the Olympic Games in Mexico — a record unbroken for 33 years.
Interestingly, Kunalan didn’t plan to become a runner. He had always wanted to be a soccer player. An early rejection at his secondary school trials – because he could not afford proper boots – didn’t turn the persistent sportsman away. He went on to play Division 3 soccer for the Teacher’s Unit when he joined the teaching profession in 1961.
About a year later, while playing soccer, Kunalan’s running talent was spotted by his coach, Tan Eng Yoon. Tan strongly recommended him to join his athletic trainings at the Farrer Park track. Kunalan agreed.
At the peak of his competitive career, Kunalan trained a grueling six days per week prior to the Olympic Games. And yet, this was not enough.
“My coach once wrote in the newspaper that he had to curb my enthusiasm. When he asked me to do 6 sets, I would volunteer for 8!” Kunalan laughed heartily as he continued, “I didn’t have that many thoughts in my mind. All I could think of was: if you could perform better than me, then let’s compete!”
When asked what his proudest achievement is, Kunalan said without hesitation: “Being a teacher!”
In light of his athletic feat, it is easy to forget his achievements as an educator. From being a teacher of 40 Primary Three students at Tiong Bahru Primary School in 1961, to his extended retirement as an ITE lecturer in 2010, Kunalan’s dedication to teaching is evident in his 49-year career.
Even today, many of his former students gather at his place every year during Christmas.
“All my students are very precious to me,” he said, “we share fond memories together and all these meaningful recollections are close to my heart.”
Not Slowing Down at 71
Clearly, Kunalan’s zeal for life is not bound by age.
During this interview, we asked a group of Vietnamese students to challenge the 71-year-old to a one-minute trial of sit-ups.
When the stop-watch stopped, our 15-year-old challenger had managed 36 sit-ups. Kunalan had finished 64.
Today, Kunalan continues a exercise regime of 1.5km jog every morning, at the the park next to his Paterson Road home.
“Do people have to train less as they grow old? No!” Kunalan said.
“It’s the same in work and life – you don’t have to slow down. You go all the way!”
Source : NDP 2013 – our stories