Lessons from Para Games

Yip Pin Xiu (left) and Theresa Goh were first and third respectively in the women's 50m backstroke- S5 (S2-S5) of 8th Asean Para Games, on Dec 8, 2015. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Even in an Asean Para Games (APG) filled with countless sporting feats that captured Singaporeans' hearts, national para-swimmer Yip Pin Xiu's world-record feat in the women's 50m backstroke stood out.

It was not simply because of the result - that the 23-year-old won a gold medal while competing three classes above her, against para-swimmers who are far more physically functional than she is.

More symbolically, it showed that even as muscle dystrophy progressively robs her of strength all over her body, Yip has simply responded with greater tenacity and even more dogged determination.

It epitomises the can-do spirit of the APG and its participants: In the face of challenges, para-athletes find ways to persevere and be better, just like their able-bodied counterparts.

The Games, which were held in Singapore for the first time, gave the nation a rare chance to see its disabled countrymen in a different light, and to be inspired in person by feats not many knew could be accomplished. From previously only hearing about the achievements of national para-athletes - and even then, just a select few from more prominent sports - Singaporeans saw grit in the faces of the nation's 152 representatives, as well as over a thousand other athletes from the region.

More than 100,000 turned up over a week of competition, while over 600,000 - most of them young children - experienced adaptive sports at the APG carnival. Many learnt that disability sports are just as competitive and require just as much skill and strength as able-bodied sports. Others appreciated that para-athletes overcome just as much as, if not more than, their able-bodied compatriots.

It has allowed for the national push to "Live Better Through Sport" to be a message that resonates more clearly - as one that applies to people of all abilities.

The Games have provided the perfect launchpad for the authorities to reach out to more people with disabilities, and to help Singapore progress towards being a more inclusive society. It can hopefully help more people see that with determination and the right attitude, one can achieve great things.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2015, with the headline 'Lessons from Para Games'. Print Edition | Subscribe