National athlete Dipna Lim Prasad on finding the courage to pursue one’s passions, handling inferiority in a healthy way and the best sunscreen to use for long days in the sun + other skincare secrets.
It’s been 17 years since I started running in primary school. I’m also in the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) Athletes' Commission, overseeing every major game from SEA games to Olympics. We’re like the voice for athletes in Singapore: we organise athlete’s forums and specific workshops tackling issues like safe training environments, fighting against sexual harassment and even mental health and anti-doping. I also run In My Shoes, a social initiative to collect shoes and redistribute them to underprivileged kids in Singapore who are in need.
Career I was the very first batch of students enrolled into Singapore Sports School when it opened. When I heard there was a school that would allow me to run more, I was like “Yes!”. So I went for the trials and made it, but my parents were a little hesitant - this path I had chosen was unorthodox and not cheap, but they eventually gave in. Honestly I wasn’t great at the time, my teammates were gold medalists; we had two record breakers and I was always coming in fifth - it wasn’t bad, but compared to others going into Sports School it was nothing. I didn’t get a spot in any events my first year; even my coach felt bad for me. But I really love the sport, you know? So I just kept training and training, and by my second year I was better. I eventually got good and we just kept building on that, that’s when I started getting selected for competitions to represent Singapore and eventually made it to the national team.
Obviously I struggle with that sense of inferiority, feeling like I’m not as good as everyone else. But I also remember my genuine love for the sport - a lot of athletes will say they love the competition and hate the training, but I’m the opposite - I love training. So I focus on the process. But also, if you ask my mum, she’ll tell you how I used to come home and cry a lot, and she’s probably right. I allow myself to cry, but it’s also important to keep at it even in the midst of disappointment.
When I graduated from university in 2014, I had no idea what to do as a career. I knew I wanted to run, but it seemed impossible in Singapore, until I reached a point when I asked, ok why not? So I sat down and figured out how much I needed to make every month, and what I needed to do to get there. I wrote in to sponsors, applied for ad-hoc government grants, renegotiated existing contracts… every bit helps. Any month that I fell short, I would take on a part-time job to hit that amount. It was basically taking ownership of my financial independence so that my parents wouldn’t need to worry. That was how I started, and it’s worked for the past four years.
Setbacks & Disappointments I’m no stranger to injury, my coach half-jokes that I am fragile - I’ve had pretty crippling injuries almost every season which affects my preparation. But if I get the go-ahead to continue training without the risk of tearing something else, I’ll do it - just push through the pain. My worst injury was in 2016, when something came off the bone in my ankle and I was in an air-cast for two months. I literally had to learn how to walk again. But when something like this happens you snap into emergency survival mode, and you do whatever it takes.
When I was injured, I set a timer for 5 minutes every day and just allowed myself to cry. I give myself a certain amount of time to wallow in self-pity, and when that’s done, I get up and move on with my day. It’s step by step, and of course support from community is so important - I had a great rehabilitation team, my coach and family were pacing me one improvement, one milestone at a time.
At the end of the day, I think a lot of people tag success to a financial paycheque, which I understand completely. I acknowledge that I am privileged to have a husband who is so supportive of my dreams, so I am “allowed” to weigh success by other measures. But I firmly believe money shouldn’t hold you back from pursuing your passions. There’s always a way, you just need to figure it out. For myself, I work part-time jobs, project-based jobs, and I work harder off-season so that I can completely focus when it’s competition season.
You musn’t be afraid to ask for help, or be shy about putting yourself out there. If you send out ten proposals to sponsors, eight of them will probably reject you, one won’t even reply and one may go “Ok we’ll think about it”, but you try to negotiate from there. When I got my first national record, I told myself that’s not good enough to ask for sponsors so I’ll wait till I get two national records. But when I got my second, I thought, I’m still not good enough.
So I think we’re always afraid we’re not good enough and we don’t deserve it - but I’ve come to realise you will never think you’re good enough, you’ve just gotta make up your mind to go for it. In summary, figure out what resources you have, what you need to top up and how to get there - be flexible with your options.
Beauty Don’t exercise with a full face of makeup on - if you’re on the go remember to pack along some kind of facial wipes. I’m 27 and always in the sun, so I put more effort into my skincare. I’m not a morning person so my AM routine is super simple, I wash with water and put on the essentials, a light day cream and sun protection. I like Shiseido and Anessa sunscreen, Shiseido does not budge so it’s my go-to for long days under the sun. That’s my base, then I’ll wear a bit of concealer to look alive and tightline my upper lash line with Kat Von D Lash Liner - takes some getting used to but it’s super effective and still gentle.
Fashion When I’m not training, my style is pretty easy and effortless. The other day I wore high-waisted shorts and a linen shirt and my mum was like, “You finally look like a lady”. I try to put all my sports shoes to good use and am learning how to style them properly - it’s important that my feet are protected and well-supported all the time too. I love no-brainer pieces like this jumpsuit and every wardrobe could use a classic, feminine white top.
Health & Well-being Juggling different roles and passions can get overwhelming - I think meditation helps a lot. There’s an app I use called Headspace, it’s great. Meditation takes practice, I’m into my second year but over time it gets easier and really helps you disconnect from whatever’s going on around you so you’re not sucked into it. This may sound silly, but I also use a smartwatch and push my phone notifications to my watch. That way I make sure I’m not holding onto my phone all day which cuts down time spent surfing social media, so I’m not constantly checking my phone.
If you don’t want to spend money on a gym or fitness classes but want a good workout, I highly recommend the Nike Training app. It has videos and it helps sometimes to just have someone countdown with you, someone you can follow along. If you’re struggling to find the motivation to exercise, remember that exercise honestly does make you feel better, it improves your mood and you’ll realise you actually feel more energetic after. It’s just a matter of pushing through the initial inertia.
If you’re a beginner and you want to start incorporating some exercise into your routine, here’s a workout you can do at home. Start slow and slowly work your way up. Enjoy the process!
Quick & Effective Abs + Glutes Workout
10 reps on each side
10 reps, hold last rep for 20 seconds