For Poh Seng Song, flying had always been a childhood dream. “I have wanted to be a pilot since I was seven years old,” recalls the former national sprinter. “I remember going to the airport to send my brother off on a trip to Japan. When my parents brought me to the viewing gallery, it was the first time I saw the 747-300, aka the Big Top – that image, and those feelings, have stayed with me ever since.”
He also remembers playing an aircraft-related card game with his brother, which further sparked his interest. “My favourite aircraft was the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, which has a top speed of over Mach 3 and a ceiling altitude of 85,000ft!” He laughs. “I guess I have a thing with speed.”
Seng Song’s running career first began when he was asked to join the Singapore national team at 15 years old. He was then drafted into the national relay team squad at age 16 for the 1999 Southeast Asian Games. Since then, he has participated in the 2004 Olympic Games, five SEA Games, as well as a few other international world and Asian track and field events.
Determination and perseverance have always been important in his career as an athlete. As the anchor runner of the 4 x100m relay team in the 2003 SEA games, he fought his way to the finish line to clinch the silver medal. “I only managed to catch my opponent within the last 3-5m of the race. If I recall correctly, the difference between us was only 0.02s,” he remembers.
Seng Song retired from competitive sports in 2010 when he joined Singapore Airlines’ pilot programme. “I wouldn’t consider it a switch in careers so much as focusing on another passion of mine,” he says. “I was giving myself another challenge to look forward to.” He had been on the lookout for the pilot recruitment announcements by the airline since university and decided this was the right time to take the leap.
For Seng Song, a desk job was never really an option, and he always saw himself taking a more adventurous path in life. “Being a pilot gives me a dynamic working environment and allows me to experience so many things through travel and working with an ever-changing crew. It’s also great at gatherings where people often take interest in learning more about aviation and I get to share my experiences with them,” he says.
Seng Song made a brief return to the race track for the 2013 Asian Games in Naypyidaw, in order to participate with his wife, Dipna Lim-Prasad, a fellow national athlete. Dipna had commented that they had never been to an international competition as a couple before. “So I decided to train and managed to qualify, so that we could go together,” he recalls with a smile. “I would say that sports brought us together, and we both strongly believe in the values that Olympians hold, like excellence, friendship and respect.”
Seng Song says there are many similarities between being a pilot and an athlete. “We do face many challenges as a pilot – much like an athlete would,” he says. “There are always issues, technical or otherwise, that we have to deal with as part of the job. We need mental tenacity to move quickly from one issue to the next and not get fixated on one particular thing,” he says. “And it’s the same for an athlete. When I get injured sometimes, I need to continue training, even though a lot of times, it would be easier to just give up.”
And while his flying schedule has made Seng Song cut down on training, he still runs in the SIA Track and Field Meet every year. “It gets more and more tiring, I have to admit!” he says. “My recovery rate is slower as my age increases!” he says with a laugh. Nevertheless, Seng Song likes to keep fit, even while he’s travelling. “I would say more than 90% of the places we stay at while on assignment have a gym. So, I like to go to the gym while I’m overseas. If not, I try to go out for a run.”
One of his favourite routes to fly is San Francisco via Hong Kong, as it offers plenty of opportunities to sightsee and eat. “I will say that being a pilot has enabled me to visit exotic places that I probably would not have been able to go.”
Outside of work, Seng Song also enjoys travelling with Dipna and takes a month off every year in order to explore new destinations with her. “Other than immersing ourselves in different cultures and enjoying beautiful scenery, we are both foodies, so travelling has really let us sample the very best food the world has to offer.” He cites the United Kingdom as one of his favourite places to travel, for sentimental reasons. “It’s where we went for our honeymoon.”
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