Sporting Life

A love for sport, and also a romance sparked by sport

Dhamirah (in white) and Farhana with their mother Faridah, who is competing in shooting at the Asean Para Games, after pursuing the sport for only nine months.
Dhamirah (in white) and Farhana with their mother Faridah, who is competing in shooting at the Asean Para Games, after pursuing the sport for only nine months.ST PHOTO: ROHIT BRIJNATH

For an instant at the shooting range yesterday, a familiar sporting picture beautifully reverses itself. Usually, on a field, children play and, in the stands, anxious parents watch. This was different. Nur Dhamirah Hashim, 23, knitted her hands together nervously under her chin. Nur Farhana Hashim, 25, flinched a little every time the score went up.

Both were looking at a woman competing in Singapore's name out there. To you she's a competitor called Faridah Salleh. To Dhamirah and Farhana she is mummy.

A mummy who has polio, walks with a brace, owns an impressive giggle, competes from a wheelchair in the 10m air rifle and has a 57-year-old face which is clear proof that sport keeps you young.

"It's the first time I have seen her shoot competitively," says Farhana in wonder. Now both the daughters want to try it. Except this week they don't have time because their parents are keeping them busy. Saturday was mum at play; on Friday, their dad, Bahkia Hashim, 62, was bowling for Singapore.

By the way he also has polio. Just for the record, this hasn't stopped anyone in this family from doing whatever they want in sport. As the daughters laugh: "All our baby photos are at stadiums. That's where we grew up." Yup, Dad used to be a bodybuilder, then both parents hurled the discus and launched the javelin, and when age started to catch up they both started to bowl.

They have parents cool enough to play sport at 57 and 62; parents who are still representing Singapore; and parents who might have polio but in whose massive footsteps they would be grateful to walk.

"Determination," says Dhamirah, a Singapore Airlines cabin crew member, to describe her parents. "They never give up." Farhana, a volunteer at these Asean Para Games, is amazed at how her parents "work full time every day and then train in the evening". It's a love for sport, but it's also a romance fuelled by sport.

When she was three years old, Faridah remembers being admitted to St Andrew's hospital and during that time so was a young boy. At 16, she was introduced to sport at an association where people with disabilities gathered. One of them was the same boy, whom - she says now - "remembered me as the girl in the hospital all those years ago". The boy's name was Bahkia and in 1988 he would become her husband.

Sport has been their glue and on Faridah's Facebook page - shown to me by Farhana - two pictures have been recently posted: One of husband and wife together at these Games and another of them in 1986 at the Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled.

Yesterday, fourth out of four competitors, was not Faridah's best shooting day but it was her first competitive day in a sport she's pursued for only nine months. Nervousness, acceptably, crept into her fingers. But you can sense her pride at being here and when she speaks of the challenge of shooting - its technique, its focus - she sounds like a woman completely alive.

Sport has played a role in this for sport runs in her family's conversations and in their journeys. Some days, Faridah says, all five of them - her son, too - pile into the car and go bowling. Now, says Farhana with a grin, her mother wants her to go and work at the Sports Hub.

With the competition done, I ask the daughters if they're "proud" and they politely offer me a look which says, "You kidding, dude?" Of course they are. They have parents cool enough to play sport at 57 and 62; parents who are still representing Singapore; and parents who might have polio but in whose massive footsteps they would be grateful to walk.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 06, 2015, with the headline 'A love for sport, and also a romance sparked by sport'. Print Edition | Subscribe