SINGAPORE: Team Singapore may have a smaller medal haul from Guangzhou's Asian Games for disabled athletes as compared to November's Asian Games held in the same Chinese city, but there’s still every reason to cheer.
Proving that sports is not just for the able-bodied and a boost for the mind and body, no matter the age or build of a person, the two dozen athletes to the Guangzhou 2010 Asian Para Games have already picked up medals even in events that they are not their strengths.
Theresa Goh who holds the world record for the 50-metre breaststroke wasn't able to compete in the category as it wasn't being contested at the Games. That didn't stop her from taking the plunge in the 50-metre freestyle and 50-metre backstroke, picking a pair of bronze medals and a personal best time.
Goh suffers from congenital spina bifida and usually competes in the S5 classification, a grouping system used to ensure a level playing field against similarly disabled athletes.
Competing alongside Goh was Yip Pin Xiu, the 2008 Paralympic Gold medallist who competes in the S3 category for more physically challenged athletes, but took to the pool with S5 swimmers even though they were more able-bodied.
Despite trailing the competition, Yip clocked a time that put her top of her S3 class.
Still, for these athletes, it is not new times or medals that spur them on.
Learning to swim at a tender age of 5, Pin Xiu had to battle with muscular dystrophy, a disease that slowly wastes away muscle mass, but her love for the sport has kept her more than afloat, with medals and world records to her name.
“If not for sport, I wouldn’t be here,” said the 18-year-old Pin Xiu in a tone that would be hard to mistake as a joke.
Talent-spotted on by the Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC), she received training and was eventually sent for competitions, where the exposure proved a lifesaver.
“Personally, it has helped me in all aspects of life. Physically, it has slowed down the deterioration process, and with swimming I have prevented my muscles from wasting away, and even gaining upper body muscle mass.
“Mentally, it helped me with my confidence and self-esteem. I used to be very quiet and bullied in primary school and it was very damaging to my self-esteem but through swimming I gained a lot of experience, exposure and I got more confident and outspoken,” said the Republic Polytechnic student.
It is this intangible benefit which sports brings to the lives of the disabled that drives the SDSC and its efforts to promote sports as a lifestyle for the disabled.
With Learn-to-Play programmes at national and international competitions, the council aims to not just enhance their lifestyle of the disabled but help them in their integration with the community at large.
The SDSC encourages every disabled person to give a shot at sports, even if it's not for competition.
Fabian Tay is a 12-years-old is diagnosed with cerebral palsy and has taken up the sport Boccia as a leisure activity and has also benefited from the exposure.
He said, “I didn’t know anyone who was disabled could play sports but then I came to know of Boccia and then I realised it was possible.
“Boccia taught me perseverance and teamwork.”
Boccia which can be played by individually or as a team sport requires strength and dexterity as the player has to toss coloured leather balls to land near a target and later best the opposition by getting closer to the target or even knocking the rival's ball out of the way.
It is one of several sports which the SDSC promotes, along with wheelchair basketball, horse-riding, sailing and badminton.
Boccia, along with tenpin bowling, athletics and cycling will see Singapore's colours in action in Guangzhou before the Games close on Sunday.
But medal or not, the disabled athletes know that they are all already winners in life.
Channel News Asia