Nominee #3: Yip Pin Xiu (swimming)

ST Athlete of the Year: Converting doubts into motivation on the path to victory

Biomechanist Ryan Hodierne, who worked with Paralympic champion Yip Pin Xiu's, talks about how "her stroke rate was just astronomical" when he first met her and why PX (as he calls her) should win ST Athlete of the Year.
The Straits Times Athlete of the Year nominee Yip Pin Xiu. At Rio last year, after quelling doubts about her times at a training camp in Spain, she became the first Singaporean to win two gold medals at a Paralympic Games.
The Straits Times Athlete of the Year nominee Yip Pin Xiu. At Rio last year, after quelling doubts about her times at a training camp in Spain, she became the first Singaporean to win two gold medals at a Paralympic Games.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Being able to rise above negativity is a vital component of the Paralympian's success

Last year went swimmingly for Yip Pin Xiu. But it was because the para-swimmer did not allow herself to be easily put off by tough challenges that arose along the way.

For a start, her infectious positive energy was her first level of filter when it came to shutting out negativity. Yip said: "I'm a person who doesn't remember negative things."

She struggled to point out a glitch in a glittering year which saw her become the first Singaporean - Paralympian or Olympian - to win two gold medals at a single Games.

In Rio last September, she smashed her own world records en route to winning the S2 50m and 100m backstroke events.

But it was not that there were no setbacks or difficulties. It was because she had "accepted the lows that come with being an athlete, and these tough moments are part and parcel of an athlete's life".

For instance, she dreaded going for tough training sessions where she knew that she would throw up later. But she endured it all because of the rewards on offer.

Yip, 25, who was born with muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, said: "For every 'lactic acid training session' about once a week, I had to push myself through sets of say, 50m, at maximum speed. It's like racing eight times.

"I just pushed and pushed until I wanted to puke. Then I would sit along the side of the pool and puke. And even after I had puked, I had to push myself again.

"But I approached it (the sessions) in a bittersweet manner. I dreaded going for that session and the process of it. But after that, I enjoyed that sense of satisfaction."

And while many Singaporeans Yip's age enjoy travelling, her trips to Australia, Cyprus, Russia, Portugal, Germany and Spain, among others, either for training or competition, proved a pain.

She even missed her nephew Aiden's first-month celebration last July.

Yip said: "I'm quite close to my family, but because I was away from home so much, I missed a lot of moments after my nephew was born."

It was a sacrifice she needed to make because she wanted to focus on winning in Rio, she noted, adding: "I was withdrawn throughout last year a lot more than before."

She also had to fight off doubts that crept into her mind a month before Rio as the pressure built up.

Yip said: "I had doubts about my performance before Rio when I was at the training camp in Spain, because I was not clocking the times that I wanted for the 50m.

"It was just a bit scary and a little worrying. I hadn't seen my competitors for a long time so I didn't know how well they had been doing.

"And last year, there was amplified pressure coming from everyone else because I knew that more people were watching me. Especially when it was nearing the Games, I felt the pressure of bringing the gold back for Singapore."

But she eventually brushed aside the threats to her confidence and to her self-belief, just like the water that slid off her body as the backstroker glided through the pool.

Said the final-year Singapore Management University student: "I've just got to focus on my own race and not worry about my competitors.

"It's not a bad thing (that more people are watching me), because more attention is given to para sports."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2017, with the headline 'Converting doubts into motivation on the path to victory'. Print Edition | Subscribe