Striking a balance between your work and passion is often overwhelming. It is even harder when you start at 30 in a field like wrestling. Alvina Lim is both a sportswoman practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and pursuing wrestling at a National level and an experienced manager at Deloitte in the biotech space. In 2016, Alvina represented Singapore and clinched a gold medal in her category at the Asian Open Masters Championship organised by the international jiu-jitsu body.
STYLEGUIDE interviews Alvina to find out more about the challenges she faced, the need for discipline, and how reaping rewards is a slow but satisfying experience that is impossible without the support and co-operation of those around you. Limits exist only in the mind and this article will nudge you to strive for your own dreams that may seemingly be out of reach.
How did you start your sporting journey in Wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ)?
I first started learning BJJ when I was 30 years old. At the time, I did not think I was going to last one week in the discipline! I had two slipped discs in the thoracic and lumbar region of the spine, and an injured knee from a traffic accident back in 2002. These injuries had altered my once active lifestyle, such that carrying anything heavier than a 3kg load was difficult and downright painful.
One day, after years of feeling frustrated and restricted, I decided to face my pain head on. Coincidentally enough, it was also when I chanced upon Evolve MMA, the gym I currently train and represent. The first trial class led to a gym membership, and I was fortunate to have met such patient and encouraging instructors there, who focused on what I could do rather than on my limitations.
Gradually, I become fitter and stronger, and eventually progressed to a stage where I was able to explore Wrestling, which I picked up in 2013 to complement my BJJ skillset. In 2015, I competed at the Singapore National Open and Trial representing Evolve MMA. From there, I was invited to train with the national athletes from the Wrestling Federation of Singapore.
It is not easy to pursue a professional career yet have dedication to your passion. Can you share how you balance both work and sports?
It helps that I have a very supportive employer. I currently work for Deloitte as a Clients & Markets Manager. Deloitte is a strong supporter of national athletes and have in place a formal programme called Deloitte Ignite that offers flexible work arrangements that allow for employees who are also athletes to balance their work and competition/training schedules.
Match against India at the Commonwealth Wrestling Championships 2016
For me personally, I train mostly at night after work and during the weekends. I will make sure that I set aside 1-2 days in a week for recovery, and I will use those “day-offs” to stay back in the office to finish up on the tasks needed to be completed for the week. If I am pressed for time, I would eat my meals on my way to work, and/or do some work on my way home after training. During competition period, I would increase the frequency of my training by adding another session before work or during lunch time.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
Like most athletes, I think the challenges usually present themselves during competition season. In the lead-up to a fight, balancing work commitments and increased training sessions typically results in fatigue. What’s more, a strict diet is essential to fit into my desired weight category, so I have to ensure that I’m taking in enough nutrients for recovery while keeping an eye out that I don’t go beyond my weight limit. A combination of fatigue and strict nutrition makes me prone to injury and bouts of flu, so the next challenge would be to figure out how to continue my training programme with an accompanying injury and/or weakened immune system.
What motivates and inspires you to compete?
I feel that preparing for competitions gives me a sense of purpose. I am definitely more focused in getting things done more efficiently to fit everything into my busy schedule. Also, it is always satisfying to be able to step onto the podium – the feeling is great. The achievement is always a team effort, and I could not have done it without the support from my instructors, training partners, corner man and supporters. Most importantly, the sense of ownership from all the hard work and effort put in is something no one can take away from you.
Credits to Zamri Hassan - Won my first match at the National Open and Trials 2017 in Singapore Wrestling
Can you tell us about your most memorable or unforgettable experience?
I have had a number of memorable experiences, but if I have to pick one, it would be my first BJJ competition in Singapore in 2014. I met with a seasoned competitor in my first round – a former Gold medalist in wrestling, and as a first-timer, I was scared out of my wits!
I deliberated advice offered to me by various people and thought who should I listen to?!
With the fight underway, I stuck to my original game plan and was caught in several tricky situations that could have cost me dearly, but thankfully, managed to score against my opponent in the later parts of the fight to clinch my first victory. I remember the loud cheers of the crowd and the resounding vibrations and it was exhilarating! It was in that moment that I knew I wanted to compete again.
First International match with Japan at the 2014 Asian Open Jiu-Jitsu Championship Adult Category in Nagoya
What would your advice be for people who are struggling with work-life balance and still want to be active?
Just like how you would set a time for a business meeting in your calendar, do the same for your work out – and commit to it! Engaging in a regular workouts (even for an hour or two every week) is also more effective. There will never be enough time, so it is important to make time for it. Eventually, working out will become a habit!
What would you say to people who think that “It’s too late to start”?
Both Wrestling and BJJ can be enjoyed by people of all ages and across different levels of intensity. Competition is not necessary unless you want to, and you can revel in both sports at a recreational level too. My advice to people who are thinking of trying out either sport at a mature age would be to start at their own pace. You do not have to compare yourself with anyone else and especially not with teenagers! Practice your fundamentals diligently, and DO NOT attempt any form of high-risk movements that you see on the internet unless you are well-seasoned enough and under proper supervision.
If you are keen to compete, but cannot commit to a training programme, which usually comprises an average of 6-8 hours every day, there are competitions available for those aged 30 years old and above – all the way till 70 years and beyond!
Moreover, I always tell others that if a one-legged guy (Horie Wataru) can compete against able-bodied competitors at the BJJ Asian Open competitions and achieve a silver medal placing, there’s nothing stopping you. Besides that, at Evolve MMA, there are a handful of members who are 60 years old and above, and there is also a 50 year old lady at the Wrestling Federation of Singapore who always gives us a tough time during training. Age is just a number!
At my belt promotion with some of the training partners for BJJ 2016
If you could go back in time, what’s the one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
I would probably share with my younger self that “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” I used to think that training at a high intensity and high impact all the time was ideal. Realistically, that approach is not sustainable and many times, promising athletes quit shortly after a major injury because returning to a high intense training regime immediately after healing only leads to recurring injuries and setbacks.
So, I would tell my younger self to treat cool-downs just as seriously as warm-ups. Set time aside to focus on mobility and flexibility movements, as well as strength and conditioning exercises. Be disciplined in the department of getting sufficient rest and sleep and a healthy diet, as they are equally key in the route to lasting longer in any sport!
Who is a role model that you look up to and really admire?
The people around me continue to inspire me. My first wrestling coach, Heath Sims, was a US Olympic Wrestler and 6-time US National Champion. While working towards the Olympic qualifiers, he met with a snowboarding accident, which landed him in the ICU for several months. He never gave up and in less than 2 years, he qualified for the Sydney Olympics. His story of tenacity and perseverance has walked with me in difficult times, and inspires me to this day.
A fellow BJJ training partner of mine also happens to be a 49-year old mum who also holds a full-time job. She trains almost every day with people – often with people half her age, and has been competing at an International level since 2014. Last year, she won the Bronze medal at the World Master Jiu-jitsu Championship, and this year, she bagged the Gold medal at the Asian Masters Open and is looking forward to competing at the World Master Championship again. Her story of dedication and drive to succeed always motivates me to keep training hard.
A day's training with some of the mature girls with supermum 49-year-old Grace at the far left
What are your future plans?
I’m currently preparing for the upcoming BJJ World Master Championship and training towards the qualifying competitions for the 2019 SEA Games for Wrestling. My long-term goal would be to develop a sustainable training programme for myself, so that I can train in both sports for as long and as much as I want to! Beyond sports, I plan to develop my career at Deloitte and build meaningful relationships with my colleagues throughout the region.