Serious injuries forced triathlete Choo Ling Er to stop training. But she bounced back, and is now stronger than ever. This is her story.
Choo Ling Er doesn’t get a day off. She trains seven days a week, sometimes twice a day. That’s a total of 25 to 30 hours of running, cycling and swimming each week. But for 31-year-old Ling Er, who’s Singapore’s only full-time woman triathlete, there’s nothing to complain about – not after the odds she defied to get to where she is today.
In 2009, a horrific collision with a car during a training session on her bicycle left Ling Er with a broken left femur and right ankle. Her doctor told her she would probably never run again. At the time, she was just three weeks away from competing in her first Ironman 70.3 (commonly known as a half-Ironman) World Championship. She was devastated, but did not let it break her spirit.
Following her discharge from hospital, and while she was still unable to walk, Ling Er focused on building her upper body strength by lifting weights every day. Two months later, she began swimming regularly.
And even before she fully regained her ability to walk, she signed up for her next Ironman 70.3 race in the Philippines. A year after the accident, she competed and won in her age group, crushing her competition in a race that required her to swim 1.9km, bike 90km, and run another 21.1km. “I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other,” she says.
Recalling that dark period in her life is what gets her out of bed at 4am or 5am to train every day – even on days when every single muscle is aching. “During those eight months, I really wanted to swim, bike and run. A lot of those mornings, before I opened my eyes, I would hope it was a bad dream, and that my crutches and walker were not beside me,” she says. “I always remember those moments (in my life).”
In late 2012, she quit her job at a sports retail company to train full-time. Her husband, Alan Soh, himself a former national cyclist, supported that decision. Ling Er, he says, is not just passionate about her sport – she’s obsessed with perfecting each of the triathlon disciplines. “Even when she was working long hours, she would wake up early every day and train 20 hours a week,” he says. Alan runs a cafe and also doubles as his wife’s manager, travelling with her to major races and helping her net sponsorships.
Since the accident, Ling Er has completed 11 Ironman races and 21 Ironman 70.3 races. And she’s not planning on stopping any time soon. She’s aiming to turn professional as well as to compete in cycling at the Southeast Asian Games in 2019. Triathletes have a long runway, she says. “Ironman winners are all 37, 38 years old, and the oldest guy who won Ironman New Zealand – Cameron Brown – was 42 years old.”