At first look, you may not notice anything different about Darren Ho.
After all, he appears to be an average Singaporean guy who enjoys a good workout in the gym. You would not have guessed that Darren lives with not one, but three invisible medical conditions – which he was only diagnosed with at the age of 35, following an unexpected incident at a hawker centre.
“I think it’s just a vicious combination of bad factors: warm, humid conditions, and me wearing a round neck T-shirt, which I’m personally uncomfortable with. I just exploded right there and then, and it was ugly and embarrassing.”
However, that ugly episode was the defining moment for Darren as it encouraged him to get a proper medical diagnosis. “My friends have always mentioned that I might have ADHD because I fidget a lot; I just never followed up on it. The incident at the hawker centre gave me the push to do so.”
What he eventually found out floored him. Not only was he diagnosed with ADHD, but he was also diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome and autism. “I didn't expect to have all these conditions,” Darren says matter-of-factly. “I thought maybe one, maybe two, but not three! I had long suspected that I could have had ADHD, and even Tourette’s because it’s very visible from a young age. But being diagnosed with autism was shocking, to say the least.”
Despite the apprehension that came with it, Darren’s diagnosis ended up being what he calls “a soul-searching moment” for him. For the self-confessed former social chameleon, he realised that adapting to fit a social setting was a coping mechanism. “I’m actually not the most social person,” he admits. “I like to spend time on my own, and have my own space. I had to unlearn the fact that I had to please everyone, and be able to accept when I can’t fit in with some groups of people.”
“Before I was diagnosed, I always thought that I’m the one who needs to change. I was just a different person in different groups, trying to fit in. But now, I don’t force myself to do those things. Everyone knows that that’s just who I am.”
Embarking on his triathlon journey
One of Darren’s favourite solo pursuits is taking part in triathlons.
“I was tremendously overweight, and hit about 147kg at a point in my life,” he says. “I remember my doctor telling me that if I kept up the lifestyle I had at the time, I probably wouldn't live past my 40th birthday.”
The turning point came when one of his uncles – who “didn’t listen to medical advice” – passed away. When that happened, Darren decided to start his weight loss journey. The results started to show, and by 2014, he had lost around 40kg by making changes to his diet and adopting a more active lifestyle — walking, cycling and playing tennis again.
(Photo by Type A)
In 2015, a friend nudged him to participate in triathlons. “I told him he was mad as I couldn’t even swim!” His friend pressed on, and Darren eventually agreed to try it out. Nothing has stopped Darren since then. He has taken part in every race combination available since he started his triathlon journey in 2016. “I don't know whether being hyper-focused on each race was because of my ADHD, but it was fun and I found a lot of new ways to cope with the conditions I have, through physical fitness.”
Among all the races that he’s participated in, it’s the IronStar Triathlon that holds a special place in his heart. The race – of which Darren was the only Singaporean and Asian to have participated in – involved a 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and 42.1km run. The endurance triathlete recalls someone saying to him, “It's quite cool that you can complete a back-to-back full triathlon even though you’re dealing with all these medical conditions.” Since then, Darren has made it his personal mission to share his journey with others and show them that they can accomplish something when they put their minds to it.
Being an entrepreneur and mental wellness advocate
When Darren isn’t pushing his limits as a triathlete, he continues to push himself through his day-to-day work as a business consultant, primarily in digital transformation. He believes that his consultancy work is a culmination of all his life experiences.
“My entrepreneurial journey has taught me a lot about empathy, understanding, and tolerance,” he muses. “Beyond just making money, there’s also having to care for the people who work for you. You are only as good as the way you treat others.”
Darren also takes time out of his busy schedule to speak to groups and organisations about topics ranging from invisible conditions to mental wellness. “It’s important to share our personal stories so that more people can relate to them. Not everyone’s journey with such medical conditions is the same, but we can try to raise awareness and encourage each other.”
On moving forward
‘Onward’ – this is the word that Darren always ends off his social media posts with.
(Photo by Type A)
“I always found that there's nothing wrong with taking that one step forward. I want to encourage people to just take that one step forward towards something better, regardless of their life situations.”
If he had any other advice to share with others, what would it be?
“Be kind to those around you. I think the best form of kindness is accepting people for who they are and creating equal opportunities for everyone.”
Darren Ho, 41, Triathlete with ADHD, Tourette Syndrome and Autism