Adventurous retiree is 89 and still skydiving

Singapore's oldest skydiver Tan Kok Sing has taken the plunge three times and is planning another this year

He started a jogging club in his 50s, went white-water rafting in his 70s and, now, Mr Tan Kok Sing has added another feather to his sports cap. The 89-year-old is Singapore's oldest skydiver.

About two weeks ago, he received a certificate from the Singapore Book of Records for the feat after a friend submitted an application on his behalf.

The retired director of an import-export company has always led an active lifestyle. Even a stroke in 2009 failed to slow him down.

He says light-heartedly in Mandarin: "Being active makes me feel young."

He last skydived in February last year, from a height of 3,700m in Wanaka, New Zealand.

So far, the grandfather of four has taken the plunge thrice - twice in Cairns, Australia - and always with his family. The first was in 1996, at age 71, while on holiday in Cairns.

His elder son, Mr Tan Yong Keng, had seen a skydiving brochure and suggested that they try the activity together.

Says the younger Mr Tan, 65, who runs an engineering business: "I was keen and I know my father is the outgoing sort too. We've never had any concerns about his health or ability. We let him do whatever he wants and just want him to be happy."

His father chips in: "We decided to do it on the spur of the moment. There was no preparation."

On the risks of skydiving, he waxes philosophical: "Accidents can also happen while crossing the road, right? You shouldn't not do things just because you're scared of accidents. After all, you live only once."

On his skydives, he was strapped to a tandem instructor, who would release a parachute after free-falling for about a minute.

"The first time, I was worried that I was not connected properly to the instructor," admits Mr Tan, who skydived for the second time in 2006.

"But on subsequent dives, I relaxed. I could really enjoy the scenery, like the Great Barrier Reef while in Cairns. From that height, I could see the slight curve of the land. It was amazing. The wind would also pull my skin back and ring in my ears."

One thing he never forgot to do was to keep his mouth closed during the dive. "For most people, it's to prevent the wind from entering their mouths. But for me, it's to prevent my dentures from falling out."

Mr Tan's daughter-in-law, Mrs Connie Tan, 66, joined him on his most recent skydiving trip at his urging. "I have a fear of heights and it was he who encouraged me to just go for it," says the housewife. "I'm glad I did. It was so thrilling."

Mr Tan, who has two children, has been divorced for more than 50 years and lives with a maid in a four-room HDB flat in Tiong Bahru.

He started pursuing an active lifestyle at age 35, when he suffered rheumatism in both knees. After picking up jogging, his condition improved. He says: "From then on, I knew that I had to keep exercising in order not to fall sick. Being active also lets me meet many friends and it makes life meaningful."

In 1977, he started a jogging club for fellow Tiong Bahru residents. The group plays basketball together too. He also took part in marathons, such as the biennial Mobil Marathon in the 1980s.

During the 1990s, Mr Tan went white-water rafting with his family on two occasions, in Australia and New Zealand. His grandson, architect Tan Jingyi, 31, recalls: "I remember sitting beside him in the boat and watching how fast he reacted to the instructor's commands. It was very impressive."

In 2009, the older Mr Tan suffered a stroke that paralysed the right side of his body for a spell, but he has since regained his strength.

While he is on medication to manage his cholesterol, he does not let it stop him from exercising. He brisk-walks for 1km every day and walks 2km with his jogging club on Sundays.

One sport he will not pick up is golf, which he finds too sedate. He says: "I like sports that get my adrenaline pumping and give my heart a full workout. Some people have told me that if I over-exert myself, I might die. I laugh. I will stay active for as long as my body can take it."

Meanwhile, he is planning his next skydiving trip. "We might go to Sydney this year as my daughter wants to skydive there," he says. "Imagine seeing the beautiful Sydney coastline, with the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. It will be awesome."

bang@sph.com.sg