SINGAPORE — Sport has a way of uniting people, and a group of ex-offenders in Singapore have found a common bond through cycling.
The Break The Cycle initiative was set up in September last year, with its founders aiming to form a strong support system via cycling to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society.
"One of the biggest reasons why people re-offend is that they don't have a new circle of friends when they come out of prison, and very often they'll go back to their old circles when they're stressed," co-founder Andrew Ong, who is himself an ex-offender, told Yahoo News Singapore in an online interview on Monday (10 May).
"So this initiative seeks to introduce a new circle of friends, a new habit to them, hopefully it helps them to cope with the stresses of life in a healthy way."
Now with over 40 members, with ex-offenders making about a quarter of them, Break The Cycle would meet three times a week at Seletar Aerospace Park to go on cycling rides that stretch over two hours and cover more than 50 kilometres.
And the group have signed up for this year's OCBC Cycle, their first official participation in a cycling event. They will be doing the 42km The Sportive Virtual Ride, in which they are each required to complete the distance in four rides or less from 15 May to 13 June.
"I have a goal of assembling a group of ex-offenders to compete in cycling competitions, and so the OCBC Cycle event serves as a good starting point for them," said Ong, who is now the head of corporate partnerships and marketing at social enterprise Empact, and has volunteered for talks and workshops in halfway houses since his release in 2000.
"We're taking this year's virtual ride as a test trial, just to let our cyclists get a taste of what it's like to take part in these events."
Aim to form team for competitions
Ong is himself an avid cyclist since 2019, when he took up the sport after a health check found that his cholesterol levels were, in his words, "off the charts".
Slowly his physical and mental health improved as he could cycle further and further, and Ong was inspired to set up Break The Cycle with two of his friends - Joseph Ho, who came up with the training regimens, and Carter Ng, whose expertise is in bike repair, fitting and upgrading.
The initiative spread by word of mouth - with Ong reaching out and connecting with the ex-offenders - and membership grew steadily. Not only were ex-offenders joining, but cycling enthusiasts also volunteered their time and expertise. One of them is 2017 SEA Games gold medallist Calvin Sim, who will join the team of 15 riders for the OCBC Cycle event.
The eventual dream is to form a cycling team capable of taking part in competitions, and Ong believes that having this goal to aim for will benefit the ex-offenders in building their self-esteem and confidence.
"The main thing is to debunk the disbelief among the ex-offenders and telling them that, yes, it is possible for them to compete in cycling," he said.
"We just want to be a catalyst to start a movement to empower the cycling community to be inclusive and be friends to ex-offenders. Hopefully more cycling groups can come forward and collaborate with us, and give our members more opportunities to cycle and enjoy the sport."
Due to the recent tightening of COVID-19 safe-distancing measures in Singapore, the OCBC Cycle Speedway Championships 2021 - which was originally slated to be held on 29 May- has been postponed to a later date. Organisers will announced the new date when details are ready.
Nonetheless, the virtual component of the OCBC Cycle event will proceed as planned. Participants can still look forward to completing the virtual event over multiple rides, indoors and outdoors, from 15 May to 13 June.
Stay in the know on-the-go: Join Yahoo Singapore's Telegram channel at http://t.me/YahooSingapore