The wrestling brothers ready to rumble

Jireh (left) and Jonathan (right) are both recipients of the SOF-Peter Lim Scholarship. They are joined here with their biggest supporter, their mother - Jin Tay (centre). Photos: Kong Chong Yew

09 May 2020

By Colin Koh

The Dillon brothers – Jireh (left) and Jonathan (right)

Out on the huge ring-shaped wrestling mat resembling an upsized dart board, the Dillon brothers looked like two pint-sized figurines grappling, as each sought to pin the other for a win.

Watching them grunt, struggle, and toss each other with relative ease, you wouldn’t be able to tell the obstacles they’ve battled to get on the mat. Jonathan, 12, is dyslexic, has eczema, and struggles with trigger fingers occasionally. The younger sibling, Jireh, 9, had been born premature, faced life-threatening growth issues and was often sickly. He even required a tonsil operation to ease his breathing.

Sports was seen as an outlet to overcome their difficulties and boost their health. They’ve since excelled in it – last year, they became proud recipients of the Singapore Olympic Foundation-Peter Lim Scholarship, awarded to students who show a promise in sports and have exemplary academic records.

Jireh and Jonathan with mom Jin (right) posed with Olympic swimming champion Mrs Libby Trickett who graced last year’s SOF-Peter Lim Scholarship awards ceremony as the special guest.

An unyielding passion for sports

The brothers started wrestling even before they started school. Jonathan first took to the ring when he was six, and two years later, clinched a silver in his first national wrestling competition. He juggles wrestling with other sports like rugby and floorball.

“Sports is something I enjoy, and it’s something I use to relax,” said the Primary 6 student, who also received an Edusave Good Progress award in 2018. He added that playing sports has allowed him to focus his mind and think clearer. Jireh began wrestling even younger, at just three years old.

The Dillon brothers train thrice a week at Meerkats Wrestling Club. Jonathan (left) also juggles rugby and floorball training.

The pair trains thrice a week with the Meerkats Wrestling Club at the Tanglin Community Club. Their mother, Madam Jin Tay, is their tireless chaperone, bringing them from school at St Hilda’s Primary in Tampines to the gym, and then back home in the East. It is a hectic schedule and there is little time for recreation, but Madam Tay is happy that they’ve found their passion.

“One thing is that you can’t keep them still. So it’s good to grow a sporting love when they’re young,” she said.

More than brute strength

Shy in nature but confident on the mat, Jireh likes that wrestling requires both physical strength and quick thinking.

But isn’t wrestling a dangerous sport, especially for children? Not if the rules are obeyed, pointed out the brothers. “I won’t say wrestling is violent, because the rules are really strict. if you violate them, you’re out straightaway,” said Jonathan. It is also not only about brute strength, as technique plays a crucial role too. In fact, executing the perfect moves would prevent injuries.

Besides the physical demands, Jireh added that wrestling also required quick thinking. “You have to first execute the technique you think will work against your opponent. But if it doesn’t work, you have to think fast and switch to another plan.”

This year, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, wrestling has taken a backseat with competitions between local clubs cancelled. For now, the brothers are simply competing in their own club under the guidance of coach Gabriel Huang.

There is much potential in the brothers, said Huang, commenting that Jireh showed “tenacity” in training, while Jonathan is developing rapidly.

“If he (Jonathan) continues his progress, we could be seeing him in a regional competition for the first time at the U15 Asian Championships next year,” he said. One thing’s for sure – these two will never allow themselves to be pinned down.

Former national wrestling champion and coach Gabriel Huang thinks there’s a lot of potential in the Dhillon brothers to progress as better athletes.