From surviving on a loaf of Gardenia bread for two to three days when he was 17, Nico Quek has come a long way, becoming a key player in the national men's tchoukball team.
Life was so tough then that Quek, now 26, and his two brothers - he's the middle child - often wondered if there would be a shelter over their heads and food on the table.
To clear gambling and loan-shark debts for his older brother, his family had to sell their HDB five-room flat in Woodlands and move into a smaller three-room rental flat shared with strangers.
His father also had a variety of smoking-related health issues which prevented him from finding a job after his textile business failed. As a result, his mother had to take on several odd jobs to cover the rent and pay off debts.
"My parents tried to protect us as much as possible, and would not tell us what they were worried about. They just told us that they could not give us as much pocket money for the week," recalled Quek.
Tchoukball became his outlet to forget about the struggles at home, and a source of income to help alleviate his situation.
"I tried to earn some money for myself through assembling tchoukball equipment to sell to schools," said Quek, who took up the sport when he was studying at ITE MacPherson.
He still remembers the days when he did not have enough money to pay for public transport, walking home from Causeway Point late in the night after his thrice-weekly training sessions.
COMPELLED TO HELP
He was so passionate to come to train despite his financial situation. How could I do nothing for him?
JEFF ANG, national tchoukball coach, on recognising protege Nico Quek's potential given his enthusiasm for the sport despite dire personal circumstances.
But things are now looking up for Quek, who works as a technical support officer at Republic Polytechnic to supplement his family's income while completing the requirements for his part-time degree in mechanical engineering at Nanyang Technological University.
"I am really glad I never gave up. If I hadn't met coaches like Jeff and my friends, who helped me along the way, I would not be where I am now," said Quek.
National tchoukball coach, Jeff Ang, 46, the man who scouted and developed Quek for the past nine years, is impressed by his protege's passion for the sport despite his difficulties.
"He was so passionate, coming to train despite his financial situation. How could I do nothing for him?" said Ang, who helped Quek get his coaching licence and recommended coaching assignments to him.
Quek is hoping to repay his coach's faith in him by leading Singapore to glory at the 8th Asia Pacific Tchoukball Championships 2018 that begin tomorrow at Our Tampines Hub.
The Republic's men and women's teams, ranked world No. 2 and No. 3 respectively, will take on 11 other teams from the region.
Quek said: "We have been working very hard and we are looking to make our country proud.
"It will not be easy to beat the defending champions (Taiwan), but we will give it our best shot."