After he completed his A-Level examinations, U.K. Shyam decided he wanted to try and qualify for the 1997 SEA Games as part of the 4x100m relay team.
Then receiving a stipend of less than $1,000 a year as a national athlete, he also took up a job as a waiter at a restaurant chain that paid him $30 a day.
With his single mother barely making ends meet as a tutor, and his own income inadequate to cover training needs in addition to basic necessities like food and transportation, Shyam had to scrimp.
So one of the things he resorted to was eating leftovers of restaurant patrons. He would pay attention to diners who were more hygienic, and would secretly consume their uneaten food before putting the dishes in the dishwasher.
"Thankfully, I am now in a position I don't have to do that anymore," said the 42-year-old, a knowledge and inquiry lecturer at Hwa Chong Institution.
"But that memory always reminds me of what it was like when times were really tough. It is something I will never forget."
Nuggets like these are in his book Running On Empty: The Story Behind 0.01s, which was officially launched yesterday at the Singapore Sports Hub Library.
Even though he hung up his spikes in 2005, Shyam still holds the national record of 10.37sec, which he clocked twice in 2001. He broke the previous mark of 10.38, set by former national sprinter C. Kunalan at the 1968 Olympics.
Kunalan, 75, was among the crowd of about 100 that attended the book launch and was singled out during the hour-long session.
Shyam said he wanted to share such stories of support - and in many cases a lack of it - in his book because he felt they are reflective of "real issues" faced by Singaporean athletes, even today.
The 285-page book, written by former national runner Kenneth Khoo, chronicles Shyam's testy relationship with the Singapore Athletic Association (now called Singapore Athletics), and the sacrifices he endured to become the Republic's fastest man.
Khoo, a 36-year-old educator, said he was intrigued by Shyam's journey to become a national record holder as it was a "story of imperfection".
The pair will donate all their royalties from the book, which amount to about 10 per cent of sales, to the Chiam See Tong Sports Fund.