For a runner to shave fractions of a second off his sprint is an achievement, but this up-and-coming athlete sheared three seconds off his 800m event at his last outing.
Abdul Thaslim Hajanajubudeen, 18, came in fifth at this year's National School Track and Field Championships 800m (A division) race, with a timing of 2min 5sec, two seconds behind a bronze placing. Last year, he was eighth in the B division race, with 2min 8sec.
As he was but inches from a medal, he was sorely disappointed, but national coach G. Elangovan comforted him, telling him to focus on the fact that he had improved.
"He said, in running, improving by a second is a big thing, and I've improved three seconds within a year," he said.
(He) has the mental toughness and physical edge to be a national athlete. Right now, with minimal training, he has already attained national-school-level achievement ... Thaslim can go very far.
NATIONAL COACH G. ELANGOVAN
This, considering he came to running late - only about 21/2 years ago. Thaslim was playing "street soccer under HDB blocks", as well as under the SportCares Saturday Night Lights football programme, when someone thought he had more potential in athletics and introduced him to the CareRunners programme. The programme, also under Sport Singapore's foundation SportCares, is a 11/2-year-old initiative that aims to better the lives of underprivileged or at-risk youth by giving them access to quality training and opportunities to race.
It would be a dream to run for Singapore and be a national athlete, said the Queensway Secondary student, who won his school's cross-country race three years in a row, and was made one of five running ambassadors for the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore 2014 when he was just 16.
Now, he trains thrice a week in school, and twice a week with CareRunners. But he worries he cannot commit more time.
"I really want to become a national runner, but it's very competitive, and very time consuming," he said.
He and his younger brother, Mohammed Tharik, 15, spend most of their time outside school caring for their sister Thahusina Hasvath, 10, who is deaf and partially blind.
Three years ago, she developed diabetes, and needs her brothers to administer insulin shots three times a day while their parents - a hawker assistant and a part-time retail assistant - work.
He admits Tharik is braver than he is, for giving their sister her insulin with ease, saying "whenever I do it, my hands just shake".
He takes care of the other chores instead, because "I know my parents are exhausted when they get home at night".
During the school holidays, he worked part-time selling shoes or at an indoor soccer pitch. He also tries to find time to volunteer, on initiatives such as working on a residents' committee to organise a movie outing for families, or helping younger kids with their homework at the We Love Learning programme in the Henderson area.
Mr Elangovan, who also coaches the CareRunners team, said of the teen: "(He) has the mental toughness and physical edge to be a national athlete. Right now, with minimal training, he has already attained national-school-level achievement... Through a stronger desire for self-improvement, Thaslim can go very far in running."