Saint Duric returns once more to make regular men feel lousy
By the time you finish reading this column, Aleksandar Duric would’ve run a half-marathon. That’s before breakfast.
And then, after nibbling on a dollop of grilled, low-fat protein, the 127-year-old former footballer, who remains the fittest athlete in Singapore, JB and some say Batam, heads out for a second run, carrying his three children on his shoulders.
We were content with our error-strewn existence because Saint Duric was no longer in our lives
Along the way, Singaporeans recreate that classic scene from Rocky, where Sylvester Stallone runs through Philadelphia’s Italian Market. Lining the roadsides, locals gather to shout “go, Duric”, “go ang moh”, “you’re one of us, mat salleh” and “this weekend, Man U, how ah, can eat or not,” because some things never change.
Duric soon finds himself festooned with garlands. He is applauded at every turn. Well-meaning stallholders throw the runner some fruit to sustain him. In Rocky, Stallone politely nods his thanks and keeps running. But Duric juggles the fruit with one hand whilst balancing on a unicycle handed to him when he dashed past Uncle Ringo’s fairground.
All the time, he is whispering to his children: “This is nothing, OK. When I was growing up in Bosnia, we started canoeing at 6am on Monday and finished at midnight on Friday. Oh, we never had lakes or rivers. So we canoed through local farmland. It was good for the triceps and the farmer saved money on a plough.”
Finally, the retired Singapore Lion returns home, drinks a protein shake, eats the glass, polishes his washboard abs and then heads to a local school to deliver a gloriously politically incorrect speech about the soft strawberry generation not having what it takes to compete.
And then, of course, he heads to the gym because it’s been four-and-a-half minutes since he last raised his heart rate.
For a while, these daily, Herculean feats didn’t matter. Duric was out of sight and out of mind. The thorn in the side of every potato-chip eating couch potato had removed itself from the collective psyche.
In October 2014, the human guilt trip finally retired. He finished with a record 376 goals in 520 appearances. He put us all out of our misery when he hung up those battered boots for good.
A previous FourFourTwo column noted a nation’s gratitude, essentially telling him to take his selflessness and clear off back to that mythical place called ‘Aleks in Wonderland’, where everyone is compassionate and kind and considers a charity half-marathon a gentle jog through East Coast Park.
And we were grateful. Truly. We could eat, drink and be merry, luxuriating in our guilt-free expeditions to the fridge, safe in the knowledge that our fitness levels were only marginally below some folks earning an S.League living.
There was a brief period when it looked as if earning a place in one or two S.League squads involved little more than reducing the three prata kosong to two on matchdays and minimising the weekday drinking (you may laugh, but the disturbing reality is laid bare in Duric’s book).
So we were content with our error-strewn existence because Saint Duric was no longer in our lives.
But now, he’s back, beaming at us from the cover of his new autobiography. Presumably there wasn’t room on the cover for the halo because most chapters read like an application form for sainthood.
In the crass, voyeuristic world of social media, where a blogger’s existential crisis usually involves a new hairstyle being dyed the wrong shade of pink, Duric’s humbling life story comes across as a preposterous screenplay for a Hollywood blockbuster called The Unexpendable.
He endures an abusive childhood, a harrowing civil war, the death of a parent and living as a penniless refugee across Europe, moving from country to country and relying only on his wits and the black market to survive.
Duric batters the apathetic and self-indulgent reader across the head with a baseball bat marked “perspective”
He represented war-torn Bosnia in the 1992 Olympics with a borrowed canoe, before kicking off a journeyman football career that ended with him becoming a Singapore hero in his adopted country.
Yesterday, the end of the world was a slight leak in the second bathroom. Not anymore. Duric batters the apathetic and self-indulgent reader across the head with a baseball bat marked “perspective”.
That internal voice of conscience, his damn voice, shouts from every page. Excuses are for the weak. Run faster. Jump higher. Work harder. His voice sends the reader into places he or she clearly doesn’t want to go, like the gym.
The dedicated footballer once got bums off seats, now the humble autobiographer is doing the same. His literary voice has already chased this Sunday morning jogger back into the park (sometimes literally, never tell Duric that you’re about to go running. He’s like Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday with a WhatsApp account and more swearing).
The autobiography leaves mere mortals wracked with guilt, embarrassed by our selfish foibles, trivial concerns, comfortable upbringings and, most of all, our pot bellies.
So, well done, Duric. The lifelong ability to always smile that smile in the face of adversity makes this sheepish reader want to be a better man.
Now, please go away and leave us and our potato chips in peace.
Photos: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo