September winner: Yip Pin Xiu

Driven to swim her best

For ST's Star of the Month for September Yip Pin Xiu, nothing less than a concerted commitment to prepare for a competition will do, before she decides on her participation.
For ST's Star of the Month for September Yip Pin Xiu, nothing less than a concerted commitment to prepare for a competition will do, before she decides on her participation.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Double gold effort in Rio a result of champ's conscious, self-directed choice to prepare

The pool is Yip Pin Xiu's great giver of ability. Out of the water, this Paralympic swimmer is dependent on a wheelchair for mobility but in it, she wears speed like a cloak of superhuman powers.

In it, she is empowered, not disabled - and the world's best in her own right. In it, society's conventional notion of ability constantly gets redefined.

Yet according to her, the one who has been given the greatest education of all, by the pool, is arguably the swimmer herself.

Three Paralympic campaigns have yielded the 24-year-old three golds and one silver, but her journey from Beijing to London and most recently to Rio de Janeiro has been as much a road of self-discovery as it has been a quest through continents.

When her maiden campaign for the Paralympics began around a decade ago, Yip was a wide-eyed 14-year-old, oblivious to the magnitude of the quadrennial Games and what it might lead to for Singapore - or for herself.

"My coach sat me down two years before Beijing, telling me that I have a shot and asked if I wanted to focus a bit more on swimming," Yip recalled of the genesis of her Paralympic odyssey, a start that led to gold at the 2008 Games - Singapore's first on the Paralympic stage.

ONLY HER UTMOST WILL DO

Until I know I can give my 100 per cent, I don't want to go in half-hearted and say I don't want to do it any more in the middle.

YIP PIN XIU, Paralympic swimmer, outlining the conditions she sets herself before deciding to take part in any competition.

"I don't know why I said yes. I was just training, I wasn't aiming for anything.

Added Yip, The Straits Times' Star of the Month for September: "Beijing was a discovery of the discipline and determination that I had inside of me.

"I didn't find it before that. It was through the campaigning that I learnt just how much I could pour into training and going after a goal."

Yip took a break from competing after winning a gold and a silver in 2008, splitting herself between school and the pool before an all-out effort for the 2012 Paralympics began in 2011.

She ended up with two fourth-place finishes in London. No medals, although there was gain in the form of an important life lesson.

Said Yip: "I didn't have any hopes for London. I was trying to find a balance (between school and training) and I realised I needed to fully commit to be able to reach my goals."

Which is why the push for the Rio Paralympics was unlike any of her two previous campaigns.

For four years, she worked tirelessly against the uncontrollable effects of muscular dystrophy on her body to be in the best shape of her life - gaining form that led to two world records and two gold medals.

She said: "Rio was a very conscious effort and that's what made it different. I was much more self-driven and every day I was making a conscious choice to train because I knew every day mattered.

"I knew that I had more in me. I did Rio because I wanted to really be able to use the years productively and not waste anything. I wanted to know how far I can still go."

For now, Yip knows with certainty that she can - and wants to - pour herself wholeheartedly into the pool for at least two more years.

Next year's Asean Para Games are on the horizon, as are the world championships. Tokyo 2020 is calling too, but if the pool has taught Yip anything all these years, it is to not dive into it until and unless she is ready to go all in.

She said: "There are a lot of 'what-ifs' now - 'what if I'm not able to replicate results' or 'what if I plateau'.

"Until I know I can give my 100 per cent, I don't want to go in half-hearted and say I don't want to do it any more in the middle.

"I have to be able to really set my mind and completely throw myself into it."

The pool has been where Yip's abilities and proudest achievements took place. But in this champion's own words, it has also been "the greatest teacher".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 06, 2016, with the headline 'Driven to swim her best'. Print Edition | Subscribe