Asean Para Games: Bowler Mohamad Ismail's all ears for crisp sound of perfect strike

Mohamad Ismail, who has two Asean Para Games gold medals, believes that as long as you imagine with all your mind, believe with all your heart and work with all your might, you can achieve anything.
Mohamad Ismail, who has two Asean Para Games gold medals, believes that as long as you imagine with all your mind, believe with all your heart and work with all your might, you can achieve anything.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

One of the biggest thrills of bowling is the sight of all the pins falling for a strike.

But Mohamad Ismail gets his kicks from the sound, which he likens to a "crisp, resounding crash".

Ismail, you see, is visually impaired. But his ear drums are as finely attuned to sound waves as a submarine's sonar system.

The 32-year-old has been a competitive bowler for five years, and what a fine one he is too.

He won two golds in his last Asean Para Games (APG) outing in Solo, Indonesia four years ago, under the TPB3 category for the visually impaired, where the higher the number, the lower the impairment.

He said: "What first attracted me to bowling was the sound of a perfect strike.

"If you don't hit the pins properly, or it's not a perfect strike, you can hear the pins hitting one another and the sound is not as loud and clean as a solid perfect shot.





    Thomas Yong , Thomas Chan, Robert Ong , Kelvin Goh, Mohamad Ismail Hussain, Alphonsus Wong, Nixon Fan, Muhammad Farhan Ismail, Eric Foo, Anuar Saaid, Tay Leong Hock, Alan Ho, Bahkia Hashim, Simon Lim, Muhammad Sadik Ishak, Rohaizad, Mohamad Rausyan Yaacob, Loh Kien Hoe.

    EVENTS: Mixed singles, doubles and trios.

    ABOUT THE SPORT: It was introduced at the 2009 edition in Kuala Lumpur. It last featured at the 2011 Games in Indonesia, where Singapore won two golds, one silver and one bronze.

    Unlike normal bowling where players are differentiated according to gender, athletes in tenpin bowling all compete together. They are divided based on their classification.

    All female players will get a head start of 10 pinfalls per game.

    CLASSIFICATION: The lower the class, the higher the impairment.

    1-3: Visually impaired

    4: Intellectual disability.

    5-7: Cerebral palsy

    8: Spinal cord injury

    9: Able to stand but disability in lower half

    10: Able to stand but disability in upper half

"You can hear the difference."

That being said, it was not an easy journey for Ismail when he first started bowling.

"I faced a lot of criticism when I started out, with people asking what a visually impaired person is doing bowling; there is no point in doing it," he said.

"But I kept on practising and went bowling with friends."

In fact, contrary to what others say, Ismail thinks that vision is not that important in bowling.

He even believes that being visually impaired actually gives him an advantage over other bowlers.

"Even professional bowlers train blindfolded," he said.

"When you are blindfolded, you will rely more on where you stand and your techniques like your swing or your approach.

"Whereas, when we can see, we'll try to predict the shot. So instead of letting the ball work, we end up making too many adjustments, which leads to a lot of mistakes."

As he gears up for his second APG, Ismail reflects on his journey as a para athlete, which can be traced back to when he was only a few days old as a freak accident with an umbrella robbed him of much of his eyesight.

"It was actually a taxi driver that injured my eyes.

"He poked me with an umbrella in the left eye which also affected my right eye.

"It was purely an accident. He was actually trying to help my parents because it was raining heavily," he recalled.

He has since been unable to see anything more than 5m away for most of his life.

He explained: "When I try to focus and see, I get this thing called 'flash vision', the kind of feeling you get when you are taking photos with a flash."

Yet, that did not stop him from taking up a job at a bowling alley nine years ago, where his passion for the sport grew.

However, due to his condition, he cannot visually sight the pins and position himself for each bowl, so he relies heavily on his coach.

"My coach will help me position myself where to stand," he explained. "I have a gauge of the area, and I'll stand somewhere near the right gutter."

From there, it is a matter of constant practice until he gets to hear that desired "crisp, resounding crash" repeatedly.

"I'm still learning right now. I'm currently on a different level compared to when I first started out but I still have a lot to learn," he said.

It is exactly that kind of eagerness to constantly improve that he needs in order to retain his singles and doubles crowns at the APG from Dec 3-9.

However, the key for him will be to focus on the process, not results.

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He said: "After going through so many competitions, I realised that the more you want to win, the more you want it so badly, the more mistakes you make, the more you lose focus and you forget about what you're supposed to do and you lose all your techniques and skills.

"So I now focus more on the process and even if I don't win, there's always a next time."

Although winning is not his main objective, he still wants to put on a good performance in front of the home crowd.

"The next time we hold (the Games) may be 22 years later, like the SEA Games," he said.

"By then, I don't know if I would be fit enough to do the sport.

"So this time round, I wish to show people that, if you imagine with all your mind, believe with all your heart and work with all your might, you can achieve anything."

Vanessa Kang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2015, with the headline 'Heart Bowler's all ears for crisp sound of perfect strike'. Subscribe