Asean Para Games 2017

Asean Para Games: Ice-cold attitude results in victory

Memorising the road and deploying ice cubes strategically brings blind cyclist a gold medal

Singapore cyclist Emily Lee is blind, yet she knew exactly at which points along the 12.3km road circuit she and her sighted pilot Sarah Tan would encounter a hump, a slope or when they needed to turn.

Being the only fully blind entrant in the four-competitor individual time trial at the Asean Para Games, she needed to memorise the route, its landmarks, and "keep playing them in my mind".

Their fine teamwork paid off yesterday when they clocked 19min 9.23sec to beat Malaysia's Nur Azlia Syafinaz and Adilla Noraidillina (19:24.54) to the gold - the nation's first cycling title at the biennial Games.

Singapore's other pair of Delia Kang and sighted pilot Jeynelle Lee (19:45.77) claimed bronze.

Besides familiarising themselves with the route around Putrajaya during their recce session on Tuesday, they practised their communication verbal cues too.

"We came up with words that we were going to use," explained Lee, 47. "For example, if she wanted me to stop pedalling, she would say, 'Roll'. Or if we had to speed up, she would just shout 'Up' and I would pedal harder.

"But I would forget these new words initially because I needed time for them to register in my mind.

"It's harder for me so I have to be more alert. She (Tan) is good at changing gears and she knows what cadence was the most comfortable for me. We tested all of that during our practice sessions."

As the indoor track events ended on Monday, Lee had been worried about her ability to cope with the heat during yesterday's time trial, which started at close to 11am. So just before it started, she doused her face and neck with cold water, and put two handfuls of ice down the front and back of her jersey.

She said: "I cannot take the heat very well and I was afraid that my stamina would drop drastically and then I would not have enough energy.

"I wanted to finish it quickly."

Tan, 27, praised Lee, saying: "I feel she's a determined and brave person. Despite being blind, she tries not to be fully reliant on others and does her best in everything instead of finding excuses."

Lee competed at the last APG in goalball, but she joined the cycling team in March because she enjoys the thrill of speed, especially inside a velodrome.

The Formula One fan said: "I think it's impossible in this lifetime for me to be in F1, but I love the thrill of going downslope when I'm cycling in a velodrome.

"It feels like a brief moment of freefall, like I'm on a Viking ship."

Lee and Tan collected their fourth medal at the ongoing Games to add to the two silvers and a bronze won in track cycling at the Nilai Velodrome.

Having competed since Sunday, fatigue has started to set in, but Lee insisted she was not burnt out ahead of her final event this morning, the 61.5km road race.

She recalled how hard she was pushed when she first joined the training sessions. She said: "Even though my leg muscles were already burning, I had to pedal even harder."

Tandem cyclists Emily Lee (right) and sighted pilot Sarah Tan on their way to winning gold in the women's time trial at the Asean Para Games in Kuala Lumpur. It was their fourth medal of these Games. PHOTO: DYAN TJHIA/SPORT SINGAPORE

Though she was physically prepared for this APG, she admitted to feeling nervous. She said she has struggled to sleep well, and even had nightmares of being harassed by insects.

She said: "It's the anxiety because this competition was all new to me and I've never done a series of races consecutively before.

"But I surprised even myself, I didn't know that my body could take it so well."

She said with a laugh: "It is intense. It's not easy to be an athlete."

Lee and Tan's close relationship also extends off the bike: The pair have been praying together nightly in KL. Suffice to say, their prayers were answered.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2017, with the headline 'Ice-cold attitude results in victory'. Subscribe