Football kick-starts Sabah quake survivors' recovery

Tanjong Katong Secondary School student and Sabah quake survivor Emyr Uzayr, who wears a scrum cap to protect his head from injury, receiving a ball on the pitch at Bedok Stadium yesterday. The 12-year-old was among 50 children present at the preview
Tanjong Katong Secondary School student and Sabah quake survivor Emyr Uzayr, who wears a scrum cap to protect his head from injury, receiving a ball on the pitch at Bedok Stadium yesterday. The 12-year-old was among 50 children present at the preview of Valencia Soccer Schools’ football programmes. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

With his acrobatic dives across goal and moves to parry any football coming his way, it is hard to believe that 12-year-old goalkeeper Emyr Uzayr picked up the sport only in February.

But the Tanjong Katong Secondary School student is a fast learner and certainly looks the part of a serious goalie, even donning protective head gear while in action, like Arsenal's Petr Cech.

The head gear is necessary because Emyr was injured in the Sabah earthquake that struck on June 5 last year. He was on an expedition with his buddies from Tanjong Katong Primary School when the earthquake, measuring 6.0 in magnitude, battered Mount Kinabalu.

His skull was fractured by falling rocks and he required a four-hour operation to save his life. Seven of his schoolmates died. In Emyr's group of 10 who were hiking together, the only other pupil who survived was El Wafeeq, a defender who was training on the same pitch at Bedok Stadium yesterday.

But Emyr, a fan of Bayern Munich's Manuel Neuer, is determined to overcome the trauma through his passion for football. Speaking softly with his head bowed and avoiding eye contact, it was evident that talk of the quake still traumatises him.

But he is determined keep the painful memories at bay, saying: "I'm not going to let my scars stop me from doing what I want. I'm moving on with my life but I can't help but look back at what happened in Sabah. The incident affected me a lot for a long while and, even now, I've thoughts about it and hold some regrets.

OVERCOMING TRAGEDY

I started playing football only this year as a way for me to recover from the tragedy last year. Although my scars still affect me, I'm doing my best to overcome it.

EMYR UZAYR, who was injured in the quake that struck Mount Kinabalu last year.

MOVING ON

For the first few months (after the quake), I felt traumatised. But I decided to move on and not think about it any more - football has been a big part of that.

EL WAFEEQ, a fellow Sabah quake survivor and Tanjong Katong Secondary student.

"I started playing football only this year as a way for me to recover from the tragedy last year. Although my scars still affect me, I'm doing my best to overcome it."

Emyr and Wafeeq were among the 50 children present at the preview of Valencia Soccer Schools' football programmes yesterday. Valencia Soccer Schools will hold a three-day camp next month.

While Wafeeq said he has put the tragedy behind him, he still remembers what happened. Giant boulders, he recalled, rained down on the pupils and their teachers. He had to use a wheelchair after the disaster, but declined to reveal the nature of his injuries.

The right-back, who features in the Tanjong Katong Secondary team, said: "For the first few months (after the quake), I felt traumatised. But I decided to move on and not think about it any more - football has been a big part of that.

" I didn't want the incident to stop my passion. I've gone through many challenges in football and those experiences have helped me overcome my past."

Wafeeq, a footballer since Primary 3, added: "If I keep dwelling on the past, I won't be able to focus on my life and what I like to do. Football has taught me perseverance and that has helped me a lot."

Tanjong Katong Secondary coach Azahari Aziz is pleased with how far the boys have come since the quake. He said: "The boys, especially Wafeeq, weren't their usual selves after the earthquake... But in the past six months, they've been showing signs of improvement, which I'm glad to see.

"Football has played a major part in their recovery efforts."

Wafeeq agreed, saying: "When I'm on the field, I don't think of anything else but football."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2016, with the headline 'Football kick-starts quake survivors' recovery'. Print Edition | Subscribe