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Teacher quits job to focus on his steeplechase dream

SINGAPORE — On his SEA Games debut on home soil last year, 32-year-old Muhammad Shah Feroz finished ninth in the 3,000m steeplechase event in 9min 42.78sec, 43 seconds behind eventual winner Christopher Ulboc Jr of the Philippines (8:59.07), who is six years his junior.

Shah Feroz’s new personal best made him realise he had the ability to go faster — but only if he put in more time and effort. Photo: Romaine Soh

Shah Feroz’s new personal best made him realise he had the ability to go faster — but only if he put in more time and effort. Photo: Romaine Soh

SINGAPORE — On his SEA Games debut on home soil last year, 32-year-old Muhammad Shah Feroz finished ninth in the 3,000m steeplechase event in 9min 42.78sec, 43 seconds behind eventual winner Christopher Ulboc Jr of the Philippines (8:59.07), who is six years his junior.

But while others may be disheartened, Shah Feroz felt something different as he crossed the finish line at the National Stadium. “When I crossed the time, I felt the fire in me that had disappeared since 2006,” he told TODAY. “I realised it was still possible to achieve what I wanted to. I felt I was closer to achieving my dreams than before.”

After all, Shah Feroz had achieved a new personal best (PB) in that run, smashing his previous time by 17 seconds. More significantly, it was also his first PB in four years.

And he had achieved it after taking a month of no-pay leave to go to Cameron Highlands in Malaysia for altitude training to prepare for the SEA Games.

Shah Feroz’s new PB made him realise two things — that he has the ability to go even faster, and that this could be achieved only if he put in more time and effort into his training.

And that is why the Innova Junior College physical education (PE) teacher quit his job in July to train full-time for a year.

Not only does he want to compete at next year’s SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, he also wants a crack at the national 3,000m steeplechase record of 9:11.42, which was clocked by Mathevan Maran at the 1989 SEA Games, when he won a bronze.

“I left because I felt something was missing,” Shah Feroz told TODAY.

He said he had been struggling to get enough rest while trying to juggle his career and sports.

During his teaching days, he would be up at 5.45am. It would easily be 11pm by the time he reached home after heading to training from work, just enough time for him to get a meal and head to bed.

“Every time after work when I can’t train or when I find it hard to complete a workout, I get frustrated with myself,” said Shah.

“I felt that running was something that I couldn’t leave behind. So I need to go all out first, pursue what I think is missing. Then I can focus on my career.”

Shah Feroz’s coach, G Elangovan, projects that his trainee’s year of full-time training can take him closer to the national steeplechase record.

“I’m glad he’s giving himself a chance to do it, so that down the road there will be no regrets,” said Elangovan, who has coached three sub-10 steeplechasers.

“One year in his entire life, this is nothing, as long as he knows he can catch up with his career.”

Although Shah Feroz is eyeing the national record, it may be a tougher ask to qualify for the Kuala Lumpur Games on merit, as it means that he has to hit the 2015 Games’ bronze-medal mark of 9:06.41, five seconds faster than the national record.

But Shah Feroz is so determined to achieve his goal that he has decided not to take up any part-time work during his year of full-time training, despite being offered some jobs to help him fund his sporting dreams.

“I rejected them because I’m taking this one year off to put my full focus on it,” said Shah Feroz, who says his savings can tide him over for a year. “I do not want to fall into that trap where I’m tired and need my rest, but yet I have to do this part-time job.”

However, he is looking around for sponsors to help fund his campaign. The distance runner, whose apparel is sponsored by New Balance, has reached out to various companies for sponsorship opportunities, but none have responded so far.

When asked whether his age might be an obstacle to his ambition, Shah Feroz said that age is just a number, and cited national 400m runner Kenneth Khoo, who participated in his fifth SEA Games last year at age 33, as his inspiration.

“Kenneth was the one that inspired me to make a comeback,” he said. “If he can still maintain his speed, I don’t see why I can’t get back my endurance and speed...”

Shah’s colleagues and coach have been struck by his dogged determination. “He’s a fighter,” said Lim Fong Yee, Innova JC’s head of PE.

“He went to Cameron Highlands by himself in pursuit of his athletic dream. He has heart.”

Elangovan said: “This guy only races well in one out of six races, and he still dares. That is his plus point. He doesn’t give up that easily.”

Shah Feroz hopes to inspire younger athletes to be more daring in their athletic pursuits. “They will know that they can actually do things if they want to, if they put their heart and soul into it,” he said.

“I’m just doing what I think is good for me. I’ll feel at peace with myself if I know that I’ve given my best training for this SEA Games.”

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