SINGAPORE - Team Singapore's 13-strong contingent from the 2016 Paralympics were honoured in a parliamentary motion on Monday (Nov 7) as the country's leaders hailed their achievements at the Rio de Janeiro Games.
However, only nine of the athletes - Maximillian Tan, Gemma Rose Foo, Nur Syahidah Alim, Theresa Goh, Yip Pin Xiu, Toh Sze Ning, Nurulasyiqah Mohammad Taha, Suhairi Suhani and Muhammad Diroy Noordin - were present for the occasion, which saw them receive a standing ovation in the Chamber. Missing were Norsilawati Sa'at, Laurentia Tan, Jovin Tan and Yap Qian Yin.
Yip's two golds (50m backstroke S2, 100m backstroke S2) and Goh's bronze (100m breaststroke SB4) made it Singapore's best-ever showing at the quadrennial meet.
The class of 2016 was also Singapore's largest-ever Paralympics contingent, a clear sign of how far disability sport has progressed.
This is the second time that the House is honouring an athlete. In August, swimmer Joseph Schooling received a standing ovation in Parliament for winning the 100m butterfly gold at the Rio Olympics.
In a speech, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said: "Madam Speaker, I beg to move that this House congratulates our Team Singapore Paralympians for their achievements at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games.
"I would like to acknowledge the presence of our Team Singapore Paralympians, as well as former Chairman of the Singapore National Paralympic Council (SNPC) Dr Teo-Koh Sock Miang, who are with us in Chamber today. The House is gathered here to acknowledge the achievements of Team Singapore in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games," she said.
"Our Paralympians, with their incredible feats in Rio, have uplifted the nation. Adding to an already impressive haul of one gold, two silvers and three bronzes from past Games, our Paralympians brought home another two gold and one bronze medals.
"This year, we had 13 athletes qualifying and representing Singapore across six sports and 21 events - almost double the contingent of eight athletes at the 1988 and 2012 Paralympic Games.
"My heartiest congratulations to all of you. Beyond medals, each Paralympian has shown us what it means to be a champion - to be counted among the world's best, and fly our flag high at the world's biggest stage for para sports.
"These 13 extraordinary athletes have shown us that with hard work and sacrifice, we can realise our dreams. Their achievements also exemplify how a nation as small as ours can punch above its weight.
"I am honoured to have witnessed some of their amazing and inspiring performances in Rio."
Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, who is president of the Singapore National Olympic Council, also praised the para-athletes in a speech.
He also noted the significance of their achievements, and singled out Yip for special mention after she became the first Singapore Paralympian to win two gold medals at a single Games.
"For many of you, it is not just about your quest for personal achievement. It goes beyond medals," he said. "It is about our community of persons with disabilities.
"Pin Xiu shared that she would not have continued this journey if she was doing it for herself. What made her persevere is the desire to inspire other Singaporeans facing similar challenges through her actions and achievements. She has grown from a child who did not know much about para-sports to eventually becoming a world record holder with three gold medals to her name. She wants to share this message with all Singaporeans, that you can get there if you want it bad enough.
"The same goes for all our para-athletes who want to show that anything is possible if you try and work towards it, and most importantly, to believe in yourself."
Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher de Souza and Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng also congratulated the para-athletes in their speeches.
After the proceedings, Yip said: "This year with the Rio Paralympic Games, we feel that disability sports is more recognised in Singapore now and of course it's really really nice.
"We are very grateful for the opportunity to be here. It's our first time so we have mixed emotions, we're excited, we didn't know what to expect but it was really nice and heartwarming."
Goh added: "Being in this sport for so many years, I think it's been really nice to see the change from the very beginning till now. I don't think I could have expected such a reception when I first started because not many people were that aware of Paralympic sports in Singapore, so definitely today has been really nice and being recognised for what we have been doing is something that I will treasure.
"I think a very evident way of noticing increase of interest is the amount of publicity that we've been getting that is quite obvious to us and everything has kind of improved a lot over the years and it's because of everybody. The media has their role to play, we have our role to play, everybody has certain roles to play and I think everybody has contributed to allowing disability sports to be more recognised in Singapore.
"Like PX said, I think the mindset has to improve, I think we need a more open society and a more caring society and it's not just the effort of one person. It takes really a whole country to get there."
A thrilled Syahidah noted: "It's an eye-opening experience for me. This is my first time at Parliament House and I think it's a great opportunity and honour to be here with the MPs and how each of the MPs have expressed their well wishes and congratulations to us, that's really a motivation.
"From the messages that I have heard so far from the speeches they have made, I know that they have our backs and am fully confident that other motions and recommendations that they will put forth to Parliament will be beneficial for us especially in preparation for upcoming major Games like the Asean Para Games and even the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics."
Another first-timer to the Chamber, Nurul, admitted she was a bundle of nerves, saying: "I'm very honoured that we were invited here together with the medallists to sit in the chambers and be able to receive the well wishes from the ministers directly. It's my first time in the Chamber. I've visited Parliament before but it was just as a visitor; not everyone gets to go into the Chamber.
"After a while we got very comfortable with where we were seated. At first I was very uptight, then slowly over time I got used to the idea and found myself comfortable in the Chamber. (Nervous because) you only see the view of the Chambers on TV and you don't actually get to experience being inside so we were anxious, excited, nervous."