GohWithTheFlow: Norsilawati Sa'at

Goh With The Flow: Intricacy sets the wheels in motion

From far left: Para-swimmers Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh, with Norsuriani Sa'at (background), sister of wheelchair racer Norsilawati Sa'at.
From far left: Para-swimmers Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh, with Norsuriani Sa'at (background), sister of wheelchair racer Norsilawati Sa'at.PHOTO COURTESY OF THERESA GOH

Theresa Goh, swimming in her ninth straight Asean Para Games, is penning a daily column for The Straits Times, sharing nuggets and personal anecdotes about some of her team-mates in the Singapore contingent.

Today, she writes about 40-year-old wheelchair racer Norsilawati Sa'at.

Norsilawati - or Sila, as she is affectionately known - is a wheelchair racer who has made it to the heights of the Rio Paralympics last year.

Wheelchair racing requires a considerable amount of upper-body strength, and Sila, who is not particularly bulky, may not immediately come across as one who is in the sport.

But that's probably because as much emphasis - if not more - is put on technique in wheelchair racing.

I tried my hand at it before years ago and while I really liked the speed of the event, I also realised that it's a highly technical discipline.

To the outsider, it may just look like a lot of brute strength put into pushing the wheelchair forward. But everything matters - from how your hand touches the wheel, to how you follow through with the push, to how you're balancing yourself in the chair.

Everything matters - from how your hand touches the wheel, to how you follow through with the push, to how you're balancing yourself in the chair.

In that sense, I guess it's quite similar to swimming, in that the smallest things can make a big difference to the end result.

So much attention to detail is required, right down to the chair. Most serious wheelchair racers like Sila have their wheelchairs custom-made.

Sila herself travelled personally to Germany in 2004 to get measurements done for her first one.

Wheelchair racing is also not the most comfortable of positions to be in. One would have to be flexible enough to squeeze into a rather tight space, have your chest touch your knees, and lean forward enough so that you - and the wheelchair - don't fall backwards.

It's admirable for any athlete to maintain a high level of training as they get older, even more so for an aerobic sport like wheelchair racing.

Sila tells me that she is looking forward to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, and is even gunning for a podium position, and I can only admire that fire in her.

Training and competing takes such a toll, especially as one gets older - something I can attest to myself. I can only imagine what it's like for Sila, who is a decade older than me.

You've really got to train smart, or else your body will suffer for it. But I think as long as you have the desire, and know how to manage yourself, age matters less.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2017, with the headline 'Intricacy sets the wheels in motion'. Print Edition | Subscribe