Sailing champion Yap Qian Yin treasures the independence that driving a car gives her

Yap Qian Yin had to use a wheelchair after suffering spinal inflammation caused by leukaemia eight years ago. But the 26-year-old accounts assistant and national para-athlete does not let her condition stop her from doing anything she sets her heart on.

In fact, apart from her physical condition, Ms Yap does not consider herself any different from other people.

"I do not dwell on my disability as it can hold me back. Instead, I take it in my stride and focus on moving forward," she says.

"I believe nobody is born perfect. We all have some flaw or another. A person who does not have an obvious physical handicap may suffer from low self-esteem or have other hidden issues."

The Team Singapore sailor has done Singapore proud. Together with team mate Jovin Tan, who introduced her to sailing in 2011, she bagged the nation's first Asia Para Games gold medal in her debut race in Incheon, South Korea, in 2014.

Last December, at the 8th Asean Para Games held here, she clinched a gold in the Women's Single- Person Hansa 2.3 dinghy event - it was her first time sailing solo in a competition.

Ms Yap Qian Yin can hoist herself into the car and lift the wheelchair onto the passenger seat. PHOTOS: ZIXIAN YAP AND YAP FANGYU

And to think she was not into any sport when she was able-bodied.

"I believe that humans can use what we have left to do things that we never expected to be able to accomplish," she notes.

Judging by her determined nature, it comes as no surprise that besides sailing her own boat, she also drives a Toyota Axio, which she shares with her family.

The car takes her to work, training and the gym, as well as to run errands and meet friends.

Ms Yap, who has been driving for three years, has a regular Class 3 driving licence, but her car is equipped with assistive devices that allow her to drive without using her legs.

A hand control allows her to brake and accelerate via a bent rod with a knob grip. A spinner knob that is mounted on the steering wheel gives her better steering control. These can be fitted on most cars, but the vehicles have to be approved by the Land Transport Authority after each installation.

What's in the boot: • Two sailing training bags, one for clothes and the other for a life jacket, a cap and water bottles.

"I use the car most of the time, but my family members can operate it like a regular vehicle, even with the gadgets in place," says Ms Yap, who lives with her parents and an older sister in Yishun.

From afar, she appears no different from other drivers, until you notice a label on the car's windscreen or catch a glimpse of the assistive gadgets.

The steering wheel of the Toyota Axio is fitted with a spinner knob.

"When I first started driving, I felt like an octopus trying to multi- task," she recalls.

But these days, she is at ease at the helm of her Toyota. She has also gotten the hang of manoeuvring herself in and out of her car without any help.

"I just hoist myself from the wheelchair onto the driver's seat by gripping the roof of the car," she explains. "Then, I remove the wheels of my wheelchair, which I lift onto the passenger seat."

She benefits greatly from having a car as she lives far from her work place in Anson Road, her gym at the National Stadium and her training venue at Changi Sailing Club. Even though she works from home on some days, she clocks around 200km a week.

Most of all, she treasures the freedom of not having to depend on someone else to get around.

"I also get a great sense of satisfaction whenever I manage to drive myself to my destination safely," she adds.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2016, with the headline Sailing champion Yap Qian Yin treasures the independence that driving a car gives her. Subscribe