By Kelvin Tan
When most people head to the sunny shores of Phuket, it’s usually for an orgy of food, massages and alcohol at the touristy spots of Phuket Town and Patong Beach, feeling the disastrous consequences only after they touch down at Changi Airport. The irony, of course, is that when asked why we go for vacations, the usual answers are to take a break. So it’s quite sad when sunburned travellers lie in their beds on Sunday night, dreading the return to the office the next day, and wondering why they ever left the country in the first place.
Not with the Thanyapura Sports Hotel, though. This is my fourth trip to Phuket – and it’s certainly the most memorable. Apart from the sandy beaches and painfully spicy yet delicious Thai cuisine, I improved as an amateur footballer and shaved an astounding 18 seconds off my lap time in the pool.
The Thanyapura Sports Hotel, you see, really is what its name promises – a hotel catering to those looking to work on their sporting and athletic qualities. It’s quite a remarkable place, being the first in Asia to provide such an integrated platform for fitness and well-being on such a scale.
Swimming: Shaving 13secs off my breast stroke PB
It isn’t hard to feel a sense of awe as I walk from the hotel to the eight-lane, 25m pool. It looks world class (apparently it is). I’m told the English and Dutch national swimming squads popped by recently to avoid the harsh winters in Europe.
Diving in, I push off the wall with every ounce of strength I have, aiming to impress Craig with a 50m lap. At the end, I look up and the officious-looking Daktronics electronic timing system reads 1 minute, 22 seconds.
So much for my dreams of breaking the world record, which stands at 25.25 seconds, set by South African Cameron van der Burgh in 2009. I refuse to despair; I’ve come to Phuket to improve, right?
Using an underwater viewing gallery to examine exactly why I’m swimming so poorly, Craig comes back and shows me why I’m floundering. The funny thing about watching yourself on video, especially in regard to sporting performance, is it’s hard to reconcile that uncoordinated oaf on the screen with the assured, stylish image we believe we project to onlookers.
Trying to get past my embarrassment, I pay attention as the coach explains how I’m expanding too much effort with my arm strokes and not enough on gliding, which is why I’m so inefficient.
We spend the next two hours working on that. At the end of the day, despite being tired, I clock a far more respectable 1.09, shaving 13 seconds off my lap time. Not bad for a first day.
Football: Improving my goal-scoring ability
While swimming is an activity I normally use to ease the stress of a long work day, football is my passion. Which is why I have no qualms waking up at 7am to hit the beautiful Limonta Soccer Pro synthetic pitch. I meet up with Martin Hill, head coach of Phuket Soccer Schools, to work on my recent wayward shooting, which cost my Sunday league team a number of victories of late.
He kicks off the session by showing me some of the warm-up routines used by the professionals, which make a marked difference in how limber I feel when the real action begins – with shooting drills. Martin and I compete on a series of exercises designed to test my accuracy at putting the ball in the net.
Things get quite antsy towards the end, stemming from the fact that I’m a diehard Arsenal fan while Martin is an avowed Tottenham Hotspur supporter. It didn’t help my mood that he thumps me 5-1 in penalty kicks.
Of course, his victory isn’t the end of our session. He dissects what I did wrong, in the manner a physical trainer might seek to improve your workouts at a gym, correcting both my technique and approach.
It’s soon 10am. We make arrangements to reconvene at 6pm for another session to see if more improvements can be made.
While I had planned an afternoon loitering at Patong Beach, I’m pleasantly surprised that a semi-professional women’s tennis tournament is taking place at the Thanyapura Tennis Academy, which boasts six indoor and outdoor state-of-the- art Plexicushion courts.
I’ve always been a tennis fan, so it’s a nice and relaxing way to spend the afternoon. Before I know it, the sun is setting. I pop into my room for a quick shower and rejoin Martin for another session. What surprises me is how well-lit the pitch is. Having attended professional games all over Europe, the floodlights at the Thanyapura certainly look good enough to host a proper game, unlike some of the stadiums in Singapore.
Once again, Martin and I go through the drills. What’s surprising is how much improvement is evident within just a day. It might be stretching it to call the Englishman a miracle worker, but I’m hitting volleys and picking the bottom corners of the goal far more accurately and consistently than earlier in the morning.
A most profitable holiday
Elite Ironman athletes train at Thanyapura too: MH editor, Kelvin Tan (right) meets 12-time Ironman triathlete, Belinda Granger (left) and her husband and fellow triathlete, Justin Granger (centre).
Soon, it’s time to catch a flight home. I meet Craig by the breakfast table. He asks me if I’m keen to see if I remember my swimming lessons.
We pop into the pool for a quick lap and I run through all his reminders: Remember to glide. Make sure my ankles are wider than my knees when I’m kicking out for the breaststroke.
With a whistle, I’m off. With little ado, I find myself at the end of the lap, looking up to the board in wonder: 1.05. Cameron van der Burgh, I’m gunning for your record.
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