Swimming: Jeremiah Liauw's golden para-swimming debut at 10

Jeremiah Liauw won gold medals in the 50m freestyle, 50m breaststroke and 50m butterfly - and clocked personal bests in his freestyle and breaststroke events.
Jeremiah Liauw won gold medals in the 50m freestyle, 50m breaststroke and 50m butterfly - and clocked personal bests in his freestyle and breaststroke events.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

He shines at national para-swim meet, hopes to follow in Paralympian Goh's footsteps

Draped across Jeremiah Liauw's shoulders was a Superman poncho towel. He cannot fly, he cannot even walk but he is already quite a sports hero through his sheer grit.

Diagnosed with spina bifida at birth, the 10-year-old has never seen his condition as an obstacle. Six years ago, he appeared in the media as he wore pads on his elbows and knees and crawled the 750m Kids Dash event of the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore when he was just four.

And yesterday morning, he went on an aquatic adventure and won three gold medals at the Singapore Press Holdings Foundation (SPH Foundation) National Para-Swimming Championships at Toa Payoh Swimming Complex.

Swimming in the S4 classification for the men's Division B (ages 10 to 12), he won all three of his events - 50m freestyle (1min 17.22sec), 50m breaststroke (2:13.14) and 50m butterfly (2:03.63) - and clocked personal bests in his freestyle and breaststroke events.

Cheering him on to touch the wall were his parents, who wore T-shirts with the message "Go Jeremiah. You can do it!"

  • Paralympians ready for challenge in Rio

  • Team Singapore's preparations for the Sept 7-18 Paralympics are going swimmingly, assistant chef de mission Justinian Chua says.

    He told The Sunday Times yesterday on the sidelines of the SPH Foundation National Para Swimming Championships: "Most of them are in the final stages of training. They're all gearing up and getting ready to go.

    "Everybody has been training for the past few years just for this. We've got quite a lot of debutants so it'll be a good experience for them."

    He added that the team has been in "constant communication" with the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC), who have just returned from Rio de Janeiro.

    "They told us what to expect and said that the weather is getting colder and windier... they give us all the feedback so we can better prepare ourselves."

    Singapore is sending 13 athletes across six sports to Rio.

    Jean Iau

Jeremiah's fighting spirit was honed early as his mother, Michele, recalled strapping on pads to cushion her son when he crawled as a toddler.

She told The Sunday Times: "I made him crawl a lot because I wanted to build his upper body strength. I would bring him to the track to crawl, people thought I was mad.

"I believe in empowering him so we try to maximise whatever he has instead of focusing on what he can't do."

Jeremiah traded his crawling pads for swimming trunks when he started swimming competitively this year after watching the Asean Para Games last year, which took place in Singapore for the first time.

"We were trying to expose him to different sports but he likes swimming. He can stay in the water all day," said Michele.

Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC) president Dr Teo-Koh Sock Miang said of Jeremiah: "We think the publicity from last year (Asean Para Games) opened up parents' eyes to their children competing.

"If he starts now at 10, you give him a few years and good coaching, he can show real promise."

Inspired by Singapore Paralympian Theresa Goh, who also has spina bifida, Jeremiah hopes to emulate his role model and represent the country one day. Said the St Joseph's Institution Junior pupil: "I want to swim fast like Theresa. I don't know (if I will swim for Singapore next time) but I will be positive."

Jeremiah was one of 116 para-athletes from 16 special schools, associations and clubs to feature in the National Para-Swimming Championships. The meet is into its 35th addition, with SPH as a joint organiser for the last six years.

"We encourage new swimmers participating in competitions for the first time and then invite those who show potential to come for training so that we can further develop them," said Dr Teo-Koh.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 28, 2016, with the headline 'Jeremiah, 10, bags 3 golds on debut'. Print Edition | Subscribe