2015 Asean Para Games: Two weeks on

Life after Para Games

Theresa Goh, who is soaking up the sights of London, treasures the freedom to be alone, which also forces her to be braver to take control and make things happen.
Theresa Goh, who is soaking up the sights of London, treasures the freedom to be alone, which also forces her to be braver to take control and make things happen. PHOTO COURTESY OF THERESA GOH

It has been 11 days since the Singapore Asean Para Games came to a close. For many of the 152 local para-athletes, training has taken a back seat as they return to their normal lives and enjoy a well-deserved break after helping the nation win its best-ever haul of 24 golds. But new goals have already been set as they continue to pursue their sporting dreams. The Sunday Times catches up with five para-athletes.

In London on holiday, first time I've travelled alone

Theresa Goh, 28

Full-time athlete

Swimming

Gold: 50m butterfly S5; 50m,

100m & 200m freestyle S5;

100m breaststroke SB4

Bronze: 50m backstroke S5


Theresa Goh coming in first in the Women's 200M Freestyle at the 8th Asean Para Games. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

It has been a hectic two weeks with the Asean Para Games but finally I have a chance to relax.

Both myself and (Yip) Pin Xiu are taking the rest of December off to recover and also give ourselves some time off before the next season begins.

With the Paralympic Games in Rio, 2016 is going to be a big year.

I'm currently in London for a much-needed holiday. It's my first time travelling alone. I've never done it and it can be a bit tricky but I'm glad I'm doing it.

I've met a few friends but mostly I'm just keeping things free and easy and enjoying the sights.

The last time I was here was for the 2012 Paralympics and I didn't really get a chance to explore the city.

If I can find a pool, I might swim a bit but mostly just to soak in the water. It's so important to switch off and recharge your batteries to ensure you're back at 100 per cent when training starts again.

The APG has renewed my hunger and I'm really looking forward to Rio. There's lots to do.

We have new footage from the APG so we will go through it with the biomechanics experts and look at the new data and see how we can improve. I haven't had a chance to speak to my coach (Mick Massey) who's gone home to England for the holidays but we'll correspond via e-mail to discuss next year's training programme.

The Paralympics is only nine months away. We'll have a few training camps and go for a few overseas meets to get ourselves ready.

The APG was a great stepping stone for Rio. It's about making constant improvements.

My time in the 100m breaststroke SB4 (in a Games record of 2min 2.02sec) at the APG was the fastest I've swum since 2008. It's also the one event that I have confirmed I'll be competing in in Rio.

This will be my fourth Paralympics and I'm hoping to get a first medal for myself.

But I've also learnt not to put too much pressure on myself. Sometimes despite how much you want something, it just doesn't happen.

But, for now, all I'm focused on is taking advantage of this freedom I have. I go where I want, when I want and do what I want.

It's been fun and slightly uncomfortable. There's this part of me that is still getting used to not having someone with me because I've always had at least one person with me when I travel.

This trip will probably help me be a little braver and also get me to treasure my alone time a lot more.


I brought medals on first day back at work

Jason Chee, 32

Navy serviceman

Table tennis

Gold: men's team S1-2

Silver: men's individual SM2


Jason Chee says the APG medals he won are also for his work-mates who came to support him during the competition. PHOTO COURTESY OF MINDEF


Singapore's Jason Chee loses to Thailand's Natthawut Thinathet during the Men's Singles - Class 2 table tennis match. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Tuesday was my first day back at Changi Naval Base after two weeks away for the APG and it was great to see all my colleagues.

I brought my medals along to show them and told them stories about the Games and what it was like to be part of the experience.

At the morning mustering, I was given the opportunity to say a few words and I wanted to express my gratitude to everyone who believed in me. The support from the Navy and especially my squadron, 191 SQN, has been fantastic. Some of them even came down to the OCBC Arena to cheer me on during my singles match on a weekday evening.

I wanted to win a second gold and even though it didn't work out, they never stopped encouraging me, including the Chief of Navy (Rear-Admiral Lai Chung Han) who was there and spoke to me later.

I really appreciated that.

I felt like I was already a winner.

The long-term goal is to try and represent Singapore at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. I know it will be a long, tough road ahead but I will take it step by step.

I will discuss the plan for next year with my coach. Hopefully, I can play in four to five tournaments overseas to gain more experience.

I started playing para table tennis only in June 2013 while a lot of my opponents have been playing for many years.

The next two big events will be the 2017 APG in Kuala Lumpur and the 2018 Asian Para Games in Jakarta.

After that, the plan is to try and earn enough world ranking points to qualify for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.

Next year, I will also be busy with my studies. I am a part-time student at SIM University and I aim to graduate by 2017 with a degree in mathematics.

My priority, though, is my career.

While table tennis has become a big part of my life, I am a part-time athlete and a full-time navy serviceman. That will always be my main focus.

When I was showing the two medals I won to my colleagues this week, I told them the medals were for them.

I could not have done any of this without them.


Team hope to get to play in National Stadium again

Khairul Anwar, 29

Full-time poly student

Cerebral Palsy football

Bronze


Khairul Anwar says playing at home far surpasses the thrill of competing abroad as the team get to bask in a higher level of support from Singaporeans. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN AND MARK CHEONG


Khairul Anwar Bin Kasmani greets the crowd after the 8th Asean Para Games cerebral palsy football match between Singapore and Thailand. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN AND MARK CHEONG

Right after I ended the Asean Para Games (APG), it was back to school as I had to take five exam papers for my diploma in health management and promotion as a second-year student at Republic Polytechnic.

It was challenging to think of studies and playing football for Singapore at the same time.

I brought my laptop with me during the Games, so I could stay up for about an extra hour every night.

I sat at the desk in my hotel room to catch up on what I had missed out in school.

But thanks to my friends who shared their notes with me and told me which parts needed to be studied for the examinations, I managed to catch up on what I had lost touch with.

My team-mates and fellow RP students Danial Ismail and Shafiq Ariff also appreciate our friends' help and we see them as part of our support group at the APG too.

They also deserve the credit for our bronze medal.

For now, life has slowed down as there is no training for the team until mid January.

As of now, we have put aside our football boots.

But even though there is no official training, I will go back to continue on my own training. It is up to us to keep ourselves fit. I enjoy going to the school's gym, where I would train five times a week, even if it is the school holidays.

As a team, all of us feel that we do not want this dream to just stop after APG.

The support we have received from the public has been fantastic.

I have received endless Facebook friend requests and followers on Instagram (about 30 a day during APG). Many people have come up to me to congratulate the team for doing Singapore proud.

And people have walked up to me, wanting to take photos.

Throughout the APG, we have received far more attention than we ever had before.

So we hope to be able to continue to play matches in front of such a supportive crowd and keep going.

Everything should not end because APG have stopped.

In the next calendar year, we hope to have more chances to play at the National Stadium, just like how the national football team gets to play there.

We might not be able to foresee the future but there will likely be other competitions which we will take part in. Previously, we had opportunities to play overseas such as the Philippines, Abu Dhabi, Vietnam and Japan.

But to play one home match is much better than going on a one-week trip to Japan or South Korea. We had waited for so long to play at home, and we hope that we do not have to wait that long before the next chance arrives again.

When we play at home, you could see how much the fans enjoyed it, there was a big impact made.

People got to know us and become more aware of CP football.

But, currently, there is no competition within Singapore so we either have to travel overseas or invite our neighbouring countries to come and compete.

Playing opportunities in Singapore are limited.

After I graduate from my course, I plan to contribute back to CP football, either as a coach or to be part of its management.

If there are no opportunities here, I may work overseas.

I want to see CP football grow to be recognised worldwide, just like the English Premier League or the La Liga.


I hope my scholarship will be renewed

Mohamed Ismail

Hussain, 32

Full-time athlete

Bowling

Gold (mixed singles TP3), silver (mixed trios TPB1 + TPB1/2 + TPB2/3) & bronze (mixed doubles TPB1 + TPB3)


Mohamed Ismail Hussain resumed training a week after the end of the Asean Para Games in a bid to renew his Sports Excellence Scholarship, which expires at the end of the month. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH


Singapore's gold medalist bowler, Mohamad Ismail Bin Hussain. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

The itch to bowl came back very quickly once the APG ended last week and I was back in training after just taking the weekend off.

I love bowling and if I go three or four days without bowling, I feel very uneasy and get bored.

Thankfully, I'm a full-time athlete under the Sports Excellence Scholarship (spexScholarship) and train five times a week.

The scholarship expires at the end of this month and, unfortunately, my chances of having it renewed are slim because there are no major competitions next year.

It's tough to be in the programme if you don't have any specific targets to justify your inclusion.

Hopefully, the Singapore Sports Institute and Sport Singapore see that I have potential and will offer me an extension for next year.

As I was worried about my future, I approached the team in August and they are helping me look for a job. Before I became a full-time athlete in March last year, I did customer service and operations for close to 10 years. So that would be something I could go back to but I am open to any other available jobs.

The scholarship provided me with job security but even without it, I will still continue to train with the elite team about twice a week to keep my skills sharp.

I have won three gold medals, one silver and one bronze at the Asean Para Games since 2011 and I believe I can still contribute.

I believe I can do well in the next Games in Kuala Lumpur in 2017 and also at the Asian Para Games in Jakarta the next year, as I won bronze in the mixed team TPB8 + TPB2/3 + TPB2/3 last year.

My ultimate dream would be to represent Singapore at the Paralympic Games.

Unfortunately, there won't be bowling at the 2020 Tokyo Games but hopefully, for the one after that, bowling will be included.

But even if it isn't and I don't get to compete at the Paralympics, I don't think I will ever stop bowling.

I love the sport and I will bowl for as long as I can.


2 chances in February to make it to Rio

Kalai Vanen, 56

Personal trainer

Powerlifting

Bronze: Men's 97kg


Kalai Vanen coaching his client Leigh Parker, a mathematics and English tutor. Vanen, who lifted 140kg at the Asean Para Games, has to meet the qualifying mark of 165kg to contest in the Rio Paralympic Games. PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES


Singaporean powerlifter Kalai Vanen raising his fist after lifting 140kg in his first attempt during the men’s 97kg category at the 8th Asean Para Games. ST FILE PHOTO

Even though I'm a national athlete now, I still continue working as a personal trainer.

My day starts as early as 7.30am if I have an appointment with a client and it ends when the gym closes, which is about 10pm.

I took a break for a week after the APG to allow my body to recover because we had been training really hard for the Games.

But I have resumed training this week and train four times a week for about 21/2 hours. I've had to cancel appointments a few times to focus on my training but my clients have been very supportive.

The APG might be over but that doesn't mean I'm done.

The reason I'm pushing myself so hard is because of the Paralympic Games in Brazil next year.

To make it to Rio would be a lifetime achievement for me, plus, I want to show other athletes out there to never give up, that nothing is impossible even with age and that it is never too late to start.

I haven't qualified for the Paralympics yet but I have two more chances in February. The first is the 7th Fazza International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Powerlifting World Cup from Feb 15-19 in Dubai, and the second is the IPC Powerlifting World Cup a week later in Kuala Lumpur.

The qualifying mark for Rio is 165kg.

At the APG, I managed a successful lift of 140kg which earned me the bronze medal. I thought it was a good result considering that when I started powerlifting in February, I could lift only 100kg.

The progress has been good thanks to our training programme and we go slowly, doing small increments of 1.5-2.5kg and not trying to jump by 10kg immediately.

It may not look like it but powerlifting is more of a mental thing than physical.

Even if you have the strength to lift the weight, you also need to be mentally strong and psych yourself up correctly to perform a successful lift.

In training, I have been able to lift 155kg which shows I'm close to reaching my goal.

I just need to work on lifting that additional 10kg. It's not going to be easy but I'm going to try my best.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 20, 2015, with the headline 'It's back to the grind'. Print Edition | Subscribe