Sporting Life

Asean Para Games a chance to see something you won't forget

What precisely will you be doing tomorrow? Shopping? Postpone it. The National Gallery? It isn't going anywhere. Try this instead. Wander down to the OCBC Aquatic Centre and watch James Wong. He is a slim Malaysian who softly says of these Games that "anyone who comes to watch will see one thing they won't forget".

I've been lucky to witness four Olympics but yesterday at my first Para Games I see something I never have before and that I now won't forget. In the calm of the warm-up pool, a lonely figure glides through the water. Clean stroke after clean stroke. To swimmers like me who are all splash and no movement he seems unbearably smooth.

It's Wong. Who has only one fully-formed arm. His second ends before the elbow.

You need two oars to row straight and two arms to swim straight. Wong shrugs. He was born like this and doesn't know how to swim with two arms except to go fast with one. In the 100m butterfly at the able-bodied London Olympics one qualifier timed 1:04. Wong times 1:11. And is searching for 1:10 here.

This isn't sport played at the highest level but it is a form of sport that deserves admiration. For it is humans pushing on with life, finding solutions and wearing life with dignity. This you can't forget.

So, seriously, delay your Sentosa staycation and ignore the new cafe down your road. Go, be surprised at the Games. Maybe - as I did -

you'll run into Singapore swimmers Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh, who had just taken off their medals but almost never their smiles.

If you're tired of overpaid stars who have degrees in surliness, come here. Just say "good morning" to anyone in a tracksuit at these Games and it triggers a grin, a beam, a smile. It happened to me all day yesterday and for us world-class, able-bodied complainers it's a gentle lesson you can't forget. Indeed, when I tell Yip about the smiles, she - what else - smiles and says "this is what makes us different".


Aung Nyein Oo from Myanmar diving into the pool during the 100m breaststroke SB7 timed final yesterday. The double amputee, 24, set a Games record of 1:32.83. His feat was yet another example of an athlete pushing on with life and finding solutions. -ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

So, come on, keep the new baby giraffe for another weekend and cancel the facial you think you desperately need. Instead, just hang out in the MBS lobby as I did from 8am and you'll never forget the wonderful unself- consciousness of a breed of athletes you've never met before. Like the wheelchair dude, all casual cool, who rotates a wheel with one hand and texts with another. Got to be a racer!

You can't get into the Nila Suite where the athletes relax but here's what you might see. An athlete with gnarled hands strumming a guitar; some giggling at the photo booth where in just two hours the lady in charge had taken 100 shots; others playing table football and lounging on massage chairs. After a while, like me, you won't see a lack of ability, or disability, or more ability, but just playful people. We shouldn't forget that either.

Let me tell you Spectre is an overrated Bond and you need serious help if you're watching Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse. So forget the movies, here at these Games is life with a script beyond your imagination. Go see Chatchai Kornpekanok. You won't forget him. Smallish guy, big bloody competitor.

In one hall in the OCBC Arena, he's playing badminton on a wheelchair, with two slanting large wheels, two small wheels extending from the front and two from the back, presumably to ensure stability because he leans so far back it almost makes you wince.

Only half the court, vertically, is in play. If the shuttle lands in front of the service box at any time it's a foul. It is precision in a smaller space, it is dexterity that dazzles. Chatchai pivots, turns, reverses. He wheels the chair backwards using two hands, then lets go one hand and hits the shuttle while moving. It's timing that's terrifyingly good.

This isn't sport played at the highest level but it is a form of sport that deserves admiration. For it is humans pushing on with life, finding solutions and wearing life with dignity. This you can't forget.

In the afternoon, by the pool, Wong the swimmer had said: "If a kid sees a man with no arms jump into the pool (and swim), they will think so can I and be inspired." And so later last evening, I messaged a friend, Lee Seow Ser, whom I met at the table tennis with her two sons. I wondered what they found inspirational and this is what they said.

Ethan, 10, spoke of a short table tennis player, hardly the height of the table, who won against a taller player. "Even though he was short," he said, "he was very energetic and very enthusiastic."

Elliot, eight, talked of a one-hand amputee who balanced the ball with the stump of her hand and then served. "I think it's awesome," he said "as usually people serve using two hands."

Here was perception changed and possibility understood. Here was wonder for two boys and an experience a mother was grateful they had. Here is another reason why you should take a walk to the Games.

Move fast, sir, the stands are already reasonably packed. People evidently have got the message: they're giving the unforgettable a chance.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2015, with the headline 'Games a chance to see something you won't forget'. Print Edition | Subscribe