Asean Para Games: Silver for Leow who has proven doctors wrong

Zac Leow, who finished second in the 1,500m T37 yesterday, had to learn how to "sit up, walk and everything" after being told he had lost mobility.
Zac Leow, who finished second in the 1,500m T37 yesterday, had to learn how to "sit up, walk and everything" after being told he had lost mobility.

The man who was told he would never be able to walk or run again has defied doctors' orders - and there is no stopping him.

Zac Leow finished second in the men's 1,500m T37 at the Asean Para Games yesterday to deliver Singapore's first athletics medal at the meet since 2011.

He timed 5min 44.49sec, 20sec behind Indonesia's Timin, who set a Games record of 5:24.62, but well ahead of third-placed Nguyen Huu Tinh of Vietnam (6:12.51).

The feat was all the more impressive as it was only the 29-year-old's second competitive event since picking up competitive track and field in February.

DEFIANCE IS REWARDED

I'm glad I was stubborn enough to do what I wanted to do.

ZAC LEOW , 1,500m silver medallist, who was told he would never walk again after a cycling accident two years ago

More remarkably, doctors had deemed him unable to walk or run after the PhD (sports science) student at the University of Western Australia was left paralysed after a cycling accident in Australia two years ago.

However, he refused to accept his fate and slowly learnt how to "sit up, walk and everything" again. Through sheer determination, he proved his physicians wrong and was running again this year.

He said: "I'm glad I was stubborn enough to do what I wanted to do.

"Through divine intervention - if you believe in it - that's what brought me to where I am today."

Having regained his ability to run, Leow approached the Singapore Disability Sports Council, stating his interest in running. Still, preparing for his first Games was one of the most challenging tasks he has undertaken.

As he was overseas, liaising with team manager Loh Ngiap Kiang to make sure his training results were accepted required a lot of effort.

Then, there were "administrative issues" because Leow trains under an Australian coach.

But Loh was there each step of the way - even when Leow failed to qualify for the International Paralympic Committee Athletics Grand Prix in Beijing back in April.

Leow said: "Although I didn't make the qualifying mark (in Beijing), he was really encouraging and gave me the opportunity to represent the country."

Though this was a personal best timing for him, Leow admitted that he got carried away with the possibility of winning gold midway through the race.

 He said: "I was really trying to give us a national anthem (moment) here so maybe that spoilt the plan for pacing a little.

"On the third lap, I was trying to chase Timin down but he's better than me at this point of time."

 He is eyeing a place at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.

"Realistically, I will push very hard for 2020. I will be 33 then and it is probably the last chance I have left to race."

But he believes his APG medal in itself is a "big step", and hopes it will lead to more funding and support for athletics - be it for able-bodied or para track and field.

  He said: "Athletics is a bit of an underdog sport in Singapore so, hopefully, this will give the public a chance to recognise it as one of our country's medal contenders."

While today's 400m T37 is not his pet event, expect Leow to put in another strong performance.

After all, this is a man who did not take no for an answer.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2015, with the headline 'Silver for Leow who has proven doctors wrong'. Print Edition | Subscribe