Desire: The 15 profiles of Singapore athletes, each with his or her distinctive story to tell, continues today with the themes Desire and Devotion

Asean Para Games: Mastery of the strategic game brings comfort

Neo's generosity benefits his boccia team but it stems from tackling his own challenges

Determined that he would not be totally constrained by his physical limitations, boccia player Neo Kah Whye, 19, trained for months in order to be able to throw properly.
Determined that he would not be totally constrained by his physical limitations, boccia player Neo Kah Whye, 19, trained for months in order to be able to throw properly.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Most Saturday mornings, Neo Kah Whye wakes up at 5.30am. He then travels, using his motorised wheelchair and the MRT, from Pioneer where he lives, all the way to Pasir Ris for training at 9am.

Despite having the option of taking a team shuttle bus, the 19-year-old student gives up his seat for his boccia team-mates who are unable to travel independently as seating on the bus is limited.

He told The Straits Times: "If I can travel by myself, why not?

"I care for my team-mates and don't want them to turn up to training tired."

It is his desire to see the whole group excel that compels Neo, who trains three to four times a week, to make certain sacrifices for the team. This comes even though he has his own physical struggles too.

He was born with cerebral palsy and dystonia - a neurological movement disorder that causes one's muscles to contract uncontrollably. This causes his limbs to flail involuntarily although it is controlled by medication.

He takes up to five minutes to lace up his shoes but says that is "quite fast".

His condition makes throwing the orange-sized 275g boccia ball no simple feat.

As he sits on his wheelchair, the safety buckle strapped around his knees is a subtle preventative measure to curb him from kicking out uncontrollably.




    MEN: Lim Kay Choong, Muhd Shahrizan B Mohd Shah, Neo Kah Whye

    WOMEN: Nurulasyiqah Mohammad Taha, Toh Sze Ning, Lim Yu Fei Faye, Tan Yee Ting Jeralyn, Koh Kai Hui, Juni Syafiqa Jumat, Chan Siew Gek

  • LAST APG: 2 golds

    ABOUT THE SPORT: Related to lawn bowls, boccia is one of three Paralympic sports that have no opposite number in the Olympics. It was introduced at Manila 2005 as a demonstration sport.


    BC1: Able to grasp and throw the ball without assistive devices.

    BC2: Able to throw the ball overhand and underhand. Better arm function and trunk control than in Class 1 and 3.

    BC3: Limited function in arms and legs and poor trunk control. Assistive devices are used to launch the ball.

    BC4: Non-cerebral palsy class

He revealed: "When I was young, I didn't understand what my condition was. I only knew that I was in a lot of pain."

However, the little control he has over his limbs has not stopped him from doing what he wants.

Perfecting a throw was one of his greatest challenges. It takes him about a minute each time to prepare and execute a throw. Training always left him drenched in sweat.

"I was always frustrated and stressed about not throwing the ball properly," said Neo, who took up the sport in 2011.

But his desire to break free from physical limitations drove him on.

"My physical body has controlled me for 19 years," he explained.

"After a while, I realised that instead of my body controlling me, I should control it."

It took him about three to four months of rigorous training to throw a proper shot.

Since then, Neo, who competes in the BC2 category, has not looked back.

His love of boccia stems from the fact that, like chess, strategy is pivotal to the sport.

"You always need to be one step ahead of the opponent," he said, adding that one has to scrutinise even the most minute details about a competitor.

"For example, if my opponent is left-handed, I would move to block his angle of throws from the left."

As he describes the various strategies in boccia and the matches he has played in vivid detail, his voice reflects his enthusiasm - and it is easy to understand why.

For it is not just a sport to him, but a source of comfort.

"Every time I'm stressed, I take out my boccia ball and play with it," said Neo, who placed a respectable fourth at the 2013 Asian Youth Para Games in Kuala Lumpur.

He has also bagged medals in the National Disability League - a local annual sports tournament for the disabled.

"It makes me forget my worries."

But his aspirations do not simply stop at an individual level. Neo wants to raise the public profile of boccia at the APG in the hope that it bonds people, as most sports do.

"It will be fun if both the disabled and able-bodied can play boccia together," he said.

With an indomitable spirit that has seen him achieve what he wants time and time again, do not bet against Neo turning that dream into reality.

Neo Kah Whye on having his grandmother's support

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2015, with the headline 'MASTERY OF THE STRATEGIC GAME BRINGS COMFORT'. Subscribe