After classes every weekday, Mr Zac Liew makes the hour-long journey from Prince George’s Park Residences at the National University of Singapore (NUS) to the National Training Centre in Bishan.
He trains there from 4 to 8.30pm with the other members of the Singapore national gymnastics team, and then returns to campus.
On Saturday, the 21-year-old has no classes but spends four hours training. He gets to rest and recharge on Sunday.
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Although Mr Liew has been part of the national development team since he was nine years old, juggling the intensive training and competition schedule of a national-level athlete with a rigorous university timetable is a next-to-impossible feat, as the first-year student discovered upon matriculating into NUS.
Thankfully, the gymnast gets assigned a sports manager as a recipient of the NUS Sports Scholarship – a scholarship awarded to a small number of highly-talented individuals who possess outstanding academic and sports participation and representation records.
His sports manager helps to manage his training schedule, class timetable and competition arrangements. On top of that, this adviser also helps him chart his career path during regular check-in sessions.
“They help you plan and integrate your sporting life and career, and offer tips and tricks to make university life easier,” says Mr Liew. “I don’t think other universities are helping their athletes at this level.”
Sports managers also help their respective NUS scholars facilitate the process of applying for leaves of absence and work out plans to make up for missed lessons.
Chasing the dream
The bond-free NUS Sports Scholarship covers tuition fees, a living allowance and a housing allowance annually, as well as guaranteed offers of on-campus housing for the first two years and an overseas exchange opportunity with one of NUS’s partner universities.
For the artistic gymnast, who hopes to compete in the Asian Games, SEA Games and World University Games this year, as well as the 2026 Commonwealth Games, the scholarship is an indispensable resource to him.
It was this level of support that reassured Mr Liew that he had made the right choice by becoming a NUS scholar, over the offers from other schools.
“Having seen so many batches of student athletes over the years, NUS really understands what we need,” he says.
Naturally, he will also be seeking help from his sports manager to recommend the most suitable college for his Student Exchange Programme that is taking place in his third year.
With over 300 partner universities across more than 40 countries to choose from, Mr Liew hopes to study in an American or European college with a strong culture in gymnastics.
“It would be good to see how they train over there because they perform at such a high level,” he says. “Singapore has a pretty strong showing in South-east Asia, but we are still a distance away from competing with the top guys in the world.”
If he is being honest, Mr Liew never expected to attend university on a scholarship, particularly as an athlete in a sport as niche as gymnastics.
He is the only member of the NUS gymnastics team – and by extension, one of the few to receive the NUS Sports Scholarship for gymnastics.
While Singapore does not hold national collegiate-level gymnastics competitions, Mr Liew will be representing NUS at international competitions around the world.
The fact that NUS has given him so much support, both financially and academically, has made him redouble his efforts to encourage all scholar hopefuls to apply.
“You shouldn’t avoid applying out of fear of not getting the scholarship,” he says. “You deserve more credit than you think.”