2016 Paralympic Games

Sharing their pain and joy

Some of the group members include (back, from left) Seishen Gerard (Yip Pin Xiu's boyfriend), Yip, Amanda Lim, Dipna Lim-Prasad, Shayna Ng and (front, from left) Stephenie Chen, Samantha Leong, Sarah Chen and Theresa Goh. They try to hang out as much
Some of the group members include (back, from left) Seishen Gerard (Yip Pin Xiu's boyfriend), Yip, Amanda Lim, Dipna Lim-Prasad, Shayna Ng and (front, from left) Stephenie Chen, Samantha Leong, Sarah Chen and Theresa Goh. They try to hang out as much as possible, but full attendance is seldom possible owing to clashes of training and competition schedules.PHOTO COURTESY OF SHAYNA NG

Informal group helps athletes bond, as they laugh with and inspire each other off the field

This 14-strong group, made up of some of the country's most recognisable faces, are known to most Singaporeans as local stars in their respective fields.

But this band of athletes - they affectionately call themselves the "Sexayyss" - say they are simply a "nonsensical" bunch linked by a love for sports as much as they are by a love for laughs.

When Yip Pin Xiu won her second gold medal of the Rio Paralympics yesterday morning (Singapore time), and when Theresa Goh finally found the podium on Monday after four tries at the quadrennial Games, few understood the Paralympians' journeys as much or cheered as hard as their close friends in this group.

National swimmer Amanda Lim, who often trains just a few lanes away, has seen their toil first hand.

She said: "I see the kind of training they go through and I know how hard it is. It's already so tough and tiring for me. They have to put in double effort."

The close-knit club includes 13 former and current national athletes across various sports.

SPECIAL DUO

They believe they can do anything. Their self-belief is stronger than most of ours. Saying they're inspiring is really an understatement.

STEPHENIE CHEN, national canoeist, on lessons the group have learnt from para-swimmers Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh.

Apart from the swimmers, there are also bowlers Shayna Ng and Jasmine Yeong-Nathan, canoeists Muhammad Syaheenul Aiman Nasiman, Sarah and Stephenie Chen, fencers Cheryl and Liane Wong, cyclist Dinah Chan, runners Dipna Lim-Prasad and Poh Seng Song. The 14th member, Samantha Leong, also bowled.

From cafe hopping to clubbing, workouts to "pig-outs", the gang are often found together, even if their respective training and competition schedules mean full attendance is next to impossible.

While a shared experience in sport binds them, these athletes will tell you that they are, first and foremost, friends who do not distinguish between ability or disability.

Said hurdler Lim-Prasad: "People keep seeing how different we seem and wonder how we can be friends, but they fail to see how similar we all are too and that's what brings us together. We go through similar struggles in training, school and relationships."

Most of them have been friends for years but started spending more time together - and growing in numbers - as a group about a year ago. Said bowler Ng: "It's not like we decided one day that all the different sports will get together and form a group. It just happened."

Added Lim: "We did have some insecurities at first, like what if we say something wrong or do something inappropriate. Now we don't care any more. We make fun of each other, but all in good fun."

For the record, the para-swimmers are quite the live wires of the group. Goh has a penchant for puns, while Yip cracks jokes at random - although she often ends up laughing first. And both are equally adept on the dance floor in their wheelchairs.


Photoshopped photographs of Theresa Goh (left) and Yip Pin Xiu. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SHAYNA NG

As with many friendships, they learn and draw inspiration from each other. "You see their struggles - well, not really struggles because apart from Amanda, the two of them swim faster than any of us," joked canoeist Stephenie.

"You don't see them as disabled. They're really not and they don't view themselves as disabled either. They believe they can do anything. Their self-belief is stronger than most of ours. Saying they're inspiring is really an understatement."

Said Ng: "Theresa and Pin Xiu do things that even the able-bodied may not venture to do. It's quite an eye opener to see things from their point of view. It helps us be more aware of things that we do in life."

A little group celebration is in the works to welcome Yip and Goh when they return home next week. As with most of their gatherings, there will be food, laughter and also love. Added Ng: "They train just as hard as all of us - if not more. They're as capable as us and deserve as much as the able-bodied athletes do."

• Additional reporting by Jean Iau

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2016, with the headline 'Sharing their pain and joy'. Print Edition | Subscribe