SINGAPORE – He was a Sikh from Singapore. She was a Catholic from the Philippines. Theirs is an unusual love story.

Athletics brought them together and for 17 years, they lived together in a flat in Yishun.

On Wednesday (Aug 17) night, Mr Jacter Singh returned to Singapore after attending Ms Lydia de Vega’s funeral.

The former national long-distance running champion was in Manila for a week to bid adieu to a fellow athlete he had known since 1979 and was his long-time partner.

It is little known that the Singaporean and the Filipina track legend – once hailed as Asia’s fastest woman and one of the Philippines’ most-decorated athletes – were living together in Singapore till April.

“I was in shock and cried when her daughter (professional volleyball player Stephanie de Koenigswarter) called me at 9pm on Aug 10 and told me Lydia (aged 57) was gone,” Jacter, 61, said.

“It took me a while to accept that she was no longer around.

“She had breast cancer for four years and became weak in April. She wanted to go back to Manila and be with her family. But, before she left, she told me she would be back. It was not to be.”

Mr Singh’s unlikely romance with Ms de Vega began in 1979, when they met at the Asean Schools Track and Field Championships in Singapore.

The 18-year-old Sikh saw a stunning 15-year-old Filipina sprinter and wanted to say hello. But he froze when the long-limbed girl was ready for a chat.

Mr Singh wondered what the lithe beauty saw in him. But the tete-a-tete was the beginning of a touching bond between an innocent girl from the Philippines and a boy who hailed from a conservative family.

“We became an item for six years before we split,” said Mr Singh.

Ms de Vega married engineer-entrepreneur Paul Mercado in 1990 and they had three children – including son John Michael who died in a car accident in February 2001 at the age of four. The couple divorced in 2003.

Mr Singh married a Singaporean traditional Sikh girl in 1988. They had a son and divorced in 2003. His former wife and son now live overseas.

“I guess Lydia and I were destined to meet and forge a long relationship,” said Mr Singh.

“We were in touch and decided to get back together after our failed marriages.”