Shahril fighting for his future, one day at a time

THE REPORT WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE STRAITS TIMES ON JAN 20, 2013

Not so long ago, his hands could turn tightly into fists trained to box. Today they must learn to curl again, not to fit inside a glove, but simply to hold everyday objects.

Shahril Salim can only blink slowly to communicate. One day, he may be able to learn to walk again. For now, the smallest movement in the tips of his fingers seems an exquisite gift.

At the Bright Vision Hospital on Lorong Napiri in Hougang, the 22-year-old boxer is recovering from a brain injury suffered in a sparring session on Oct 28.

There are some who understand the Singaporean's struggle better than most.

Among them is Spencer Oliver. In 1998, he was one of Britain's most promising boxers and on the cusp of a world title shot.

But the European super-bantamweight champion's life fell apart when he was knocked out in the 10th round by Ukrainian Sergei Devakov at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Then aged 23, he slipped into a coma. Like Shahril, he also had bleeding on the brain and needed emergency surgery. It was the start of a long road to recovery for the 1994 Commonwealth Games silver medallist.

"I had to learn to walk again, but the worst thing was knowing that I could never box again because it had been my life," the 37-year-old, who started in the sport at the age of seven, told The Sunday Times.

"That may sound like madness after what happened to me but everyone who gets involved in boxing knows the risks."

Oliver, who works as a television pundit and runs his own gym, has no qualms training others to fight. He said: "Every time one of my boxers goes in the ring it is like a piece of me in there and that is what I live for.

"It sounds like Shahril has real fighting spirit and I hope that he continues to get better.

"It is not an easy process but I pray that he is okay. I am living proof that things can work out after an injury like this."

Even small things seem like progress for Shahril at the moment. When the former ITE College East Simei student was moved to a bed that could be tilted electronically, he was suddenly almost upright again for the first time since being rushed to the Singapore General Hospital nearly three months ago.

At last, his elder brother Jufri and sister-in-law Surayah could meet his gaze as equals, only Shahril's stare appeared fixed on a point through the faces in front of him.

"We just have to take it day by day," said Jufri, 29, as he massaged his brother's legs while Surayah delicately applied balm to his lips.

"We are seeing slight improvements but they are not consistent. We try not to make too much of them and just keep going.

"The nurses are teaching him to chew again and also trying to stimulate his senses in lots of different ways to make him better."

On the advice of a nurse, freelance musician Jufri showed Shahril videos on his mobile telephone in an attempt to try and spark his brother's brain into action.

Like Oliver, it seems Shahril has maintained his love for boxing despite his current predicament.

"He only likes to watch Mike Tyson videos," explained Jufri.

"When I try something else he doesn't bother to follow the screen. But, when Tyson is on, his pupils track it wherever it goes."

Whether Shahril makes as good a recovery as Oliver remains to be seen. Perhaps he will also clamber out of the shadows to live a life more ordinary. His fight goes on.

For more details, visit facebook.com/wakethebullproject