Different abilities, same desire

Paralympic swimmer Theresa Goh.
Paralympic swimmer Theresa Goh.PHOTO: ST FILE

With Singapore set to host the 8th Asean Para Games from Dec 3-9, the Republic's para athletes are hitting top gear in their preparations. Nigel Choo and Ho Si Rui profile some of these determined athletes, who are proving that their disabilities are no disadvantage as they train hard in their quest for glory

Theresa Goh cannot remember a time when her body was not aching from training.

For someone who has spent her last 16 years as a competitive swimmer, all she can recall is the intense muscle soreness every time she climbs out of the pool.

"I was basically sore the whole time," the 28-year-old said. "Soon, I just got used to the soreness and after a while, I just could not remember what it was like not to be sore."

Few outside her circle of relatives and friends can understand the daily strains that an elite athlete is under. Furthermore, Goh is a para-athlete - and so she has to battle far more misconceptions than most able-bodied sportsmen.

"I think disability sports have to fight the stigma that they are only for rehabilitation purposes," she said.

JUST AS TOUGH

Disability sports have to fight the stigma that they are only for rehabilitation purposes. But we go through a lot of the same things that able-bodied athletes go through.

THERESA GOH Paralympic swimmer

"But we go through a lot of the same things that able-bodied athletes go through - early mornings, long trainings, tired bodies - although the way we train may not look the same.

"When it comes down to competition day, we also get nervous and sometimes have to deal with psyching ourselves up.

"So while some of us may look a little more different, we are still doing essentially the same things."

She is not alone in that thought. Goalball athlete Ong Hock Bee, 50, identifies a common misconception "that people with disabilities are not active in sports and do not, least of all, excel."

However, he is positive that the upcoming Asean Para Games from Dec 3-9 will help prove otherwise.

Singapore is hosting the Games for the first time, and is sending its largest-ever contingent - 145 athletes - to compete in 14 out of the 15 sports on offer.

Local para-athletes are eagerly anticipating the event, ready to showcase their sports to the Singapore public.

However, they are also aware of the challenge of attracting public attention to a Games with sports and rules that are not as widely known.

As Lim Teck Yim, chairman of the Singapore Asean Para Games Organising Committee, said in July at a Games sponsorship signing event: "We need to raise awareness on the sports that are going to be played, the rules of the games.

"The occasion of the Para Games will enable Singaporeans to understand how our athletes have risen above their disabilities to stand there and perform with the same tenacity that we see in all sports."

Lim's words resonated with Ong as he aims to change the public's perceptions of sportsmen with disabilities through the Games.

He said: "I hope the public can show the same support that they had given to the recent SEA Games, because even though we are labelled para-athletes, we don't compromise in our dedication and spirit in the pursuit for sporting success."

It is such a desire for public support and acceptance that drives these athletes to shine brighter.

Goh - who has participated in all seven previous Asean Para Games - said: "My teammates and I sometimes get recognised by the public, and they usually give us words of encouragement.

"I find that very heartening and it motivates me to train harder."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 06, 2015, with the headline 'DIFFERENT ABILITIES, SAME DESIRE'. Print Edition | Subscribe