Unity

Asean Para Games: Wheelchair basketballer Choo Poh Choon says his mates helped him beat depression

Choo Poh Choon is not afraid of falling from his wheelchair when the action gets heated up on court. The game has taught him to toughen up and fend for himself.
Choo Poh Choon is not afraid of falling from his wheelchair when the action gets heated up on court. The game has taught him to toughen up and fend for himself.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The 15 profiles of Singapore athletes, each with his or her distinctive story to tell, continues today with the themes Unity and Patience

An emphatic roar emerges from the group huddled on the sidelines of the basketball court. But, instead of standing elbow to elbow, they are seated wheelchair to wheelchair next to each other.

Instead of gripping shoulders, they grip each other's wheels.

Their rallying cry is an indication of how tightly bonded the players are.

For wheelchair basketballer Choo Poh Choon, he feels that, however supportive his family and friends are, they will never fully understand some of the challenges he faces being in a wheelchair.

The youngest player in Singapore's national wheelchair basketball team at 34 credits his team-mates for helping him get through his devastating accident.

  • WHEELCHAIR BASKETBALL

  • GOLD MEDALS ON OFFER: 1

    TEAM SINGAPORE: Choo Poh

    Choon (captain), Edwin Khoo, Dexter Goh, Michael Lee, Chua Chong Hoi, Mohamed Hussain Abdul Jabbar, V. Vijayan, Suhaimi Pa'in, Ng Chong Ping, Kamas Mohd

    LAST APG: Did not compete.

    The team last took part at Korat in Thailand in 2008 but did not win a medal.

    ABOUT THE SPORT: It was first

    introduced at Manila in 2005.

    CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM:

    Players are assigned 1-4.5 points based on their physical limitation, with 4.5 indicating the least impairment. The sum of points for the five players on the court cannot exceed 14 points.

In 2001, while training in Brunei during national service, Choo, then 20, developed a fever.

As his platoon was deep in the jungle, a helicopter was sent to pick him up but the strong winds from the propeller caused a 2m-long tree branch to break and strike his spine.

A segment of his spine shattered and his spinal cord was broken, leaving him paralysed from the waist down.

"My team-mates helped me a lot," recalled Choo, who will captain the team at the Dec 3-9 Asean Para Games.

"Three, four years after the accident, I was still quite depressed on and off."

"But with the game, with my team-mates, they actually helped me to overcome many difficulties," he noted.

For instance, he used to be uncomfortable with the way people looked at him and would refuse to go out.

But team-mate Edwin Khoo, 59, advised him on ways to handle the situation and to be more confident of himself.

One particular line from Khoo has stuck with him: "There's nothing to be ashamed of."

A former team-mate would insist on taking Choo to Malaysia to prove that there were many things they could do though they were wheelchair-bound. They would go out to shop and have supper.


ST GRAPHICS

"Talking to my team-mates is totally different because they went through it. Whatever they say is something I can learn. When I spend time with them, I don't even care that I'm on a wheelchair any more," said Choo, a human resource business analyst who has played the game for 13 years now.

He has been an avid sports fan since young, playing football and basketball regularly.

His current jersey number - 7 - was chosen because it was also used by his boyhood hero Eric Cantona, a former Manchester United football star.

So when his doctor told him he had only a 2 per cent chance of recovery, he thought his life was over. It took him about a year to pick up sports again.

Initially, he did not feel ready and transport was an issue.

But after he picked up driving, and the person in charge of wheelchair basketball from the Handicaps Welfare Association approached him to join, he decided to give the sport a try.

"In life, even though we are in a wheelchair, it doesn't mean there's nothing we can do. There's definitely something we can still contribute to society," he said.

He has learnt so much from playing wheelchair basketball that he wishes to encourage more people to pick up the sport.

The game often sees wheelchairs clashing and players falling, but, to him, it teaches him not to be scared because, when he falls, he just has to pick himself up.

"There's really nothing to be afraid of.

"Once you try, you never know what you'll get out of it," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2015, with the headline 'PUSH FROM TEAM TO GO FORWARD'. Print Edition | Subscribe