Paralympian Gemma Foo can't wait to get back in the saddle for Rio


Ms Gemma Foo with her horse Cassis Royal, specially trained to suit her needs.
Ms Gemma Foo with her horse Cassis Royal, specially trained to suit her needs.PHOTO: MADAM JACQUELINE LIM

Ms Gemma Foo with her horse Cassis Royal, specially trained to suit her needs.
Ms Gemma Foo with her horse Cassis Royal, specially trained to suit her needs.PHOTO: MADAM JACQUELINE LIM

Ms Gemma Foo with her mother Madam Jacqueline Lim.
Ms Gemma Foo with her mother Madam Jacqueline Lim.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - It was meant to be the pinnacle of her sports career.

Miss Gemma Foo, 20, one of Singapore's para-equestrians, was to compete in September's Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

But on March 29, while in Cologne, Germany, and training for a competition, the horse that Miss Foo was on was startled by a loud noise and bolted, leaving her badly injured.

Neither Miss Foo, who has cerebral palsy, nor her mother Madam Jacqueline Lim, 51, knows what the noise was.

"Horses are very sensitive. When we train, we require complete silence," she told The New Paper at her home in the Thomson area.

The horse, Cassis Royal, was an 11-year-old and Miss Foo's regular ride and she had been thrown from her horse before. Usually, she just needs to sit it out to get her strength back. But this time was different.

Madam Lim saw that her daughter could not move and that her lips had turned very pale. When she noticed a bulge at her abdomen, Madam Lim called for an ambulance.

"The paramedics treated it like a trauma case and completely immobolised her," said Madam Lim.

The fall had ruptured her spleen and blood was leaking into her abdomen. Upon being rushed to hospital, she was operated on and sent to the intensive care unit for two days.

She was warded for two weeks in the hospital in Porz, Cologne, before returning to Singapore.

Madam Lim, a part-time yoga teacher, said that a doctor told her that "if we came in one day later, it'd have been too late".

"It was so shocking and traumatic," said Miss Foo.

Miss Foo was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegia, the most severe form of cerebral palsy, when she was born prematurely.

THERAPY

She took up riding as a form of therapy when she was eight and was picked by national coach, Volker Eubel, to join the national equestrian team when she was 14.

Cassis Royal is specially trained to suit Miss Foo's needs and she treats it like a confidant.

An accomplished rider, she clinched the top position in two of three dressage events during the Mannheim Para-Equestrian Championships in Germany in 2012.

She later represented Singapore in the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

It was the first time an Asian para-equestrian team had taken part in the Games. But the results saw her being placed outside the top 10 of her individual dressage events.

She continued to improve and her results from 2015 secured her a place in this year's Rio Games.

But now, the possibility of getting her best results hangs in the balance.

Her doctor had advised her to refrain from riding for three months.

She plans to return to Germany this month to try riding again. But it remains to be seen if the wound has healed enough.

Madam Lim said: "People spend four years training for the Games. For us, it's a huge step backwards."

Miss Foo's positivity still shines through during this trying period.

She said: "It was definitely a setback from what we've trained for for so long, but we can't foresee accidents."

She admitted that it would be difficult to regain her feel for riding again, but she is excited at the prospect of getting back in the saddle.

"It is mind over body," she said. "If you believe you can achieve, you can do it."

Miss Foo is thankful that her family is behind her. "Since day one, they have been supportive of everything I do. My family understands the commitment of this sport."

Outside of riding, she is pursuing a diploma in mass communications at the Management Development Institute of Singapore

She aspires to be a writer and often writes online book reviews.

When Miss Foo is finally reunited with Cassis Royal, she knows she will have to train hard to make up for lost time.

But she just wants to do her best and enjoy herself.