Goh With The Flow: Claire Toh

Life is all about adapting to challenges thrown at you

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

In the last of her columns, she writes about 24-year-old para-table tennis player Claire Toh.

Wheelchair table tennis is, as one can imagine, quite different from playing the sport as one who did not have a disability.

The sport is unimaginably fast to begin with, and while the rules of the game remain essentially the same, para-table tennis players are not as mobile and have a far smaller reach than their able-bodied counterparts.

Claire, who is paralysed from the chest down, explained to me that an athlete's physical functionality largely determines how he or she copes and plays.

Some athletes are not able to grip a bat that well, while others - like Claire - do not have core strength and would then have to hook their arm behind their armrests to help stabilise themselves. Or, in Jason Chee's case, he has a band that helps to strap him to his wheelchair while he plays.

Claire plays with her right hand while holding on to her wheel rim with her left. It's one of the ways in which she has learnt to adapt to her new level of physical ability.


PHOTO COURTESY OF THERESA GOH

She sustained a spinal-cord injury after a fall in 2012, an accident that meant someone who was born able-bodied suddenly had to adapt to a starkly different way of life.

I can't speak as though I know exactly what that's like, since my level of ability has not changed since I was born, but I think it helps if a person has a positive disposition to life to begin with.

I can't speak as though I know exactly what adapting to a different way of life is like, since my level of ability has not changed since I was born, but I think it helps if a person has a positive disposition to life to begin with.

And I know Claire is someone like that. I'm sure there are hard times too, but she has adapted really well and is focused in excelling in her sport. There's always going to be something you're going to be afraid to do. In Claire's case, maybe it's the fear of losing her balance on her wheelchair when she plays, but it's a matter of overcoming your discomfort.

I know my Team Singapore team-mates and myself do so in each of our own little ways and I hope we've been able to show others how through the past week at the APG.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 24, 2017, with the headline 'Life is all about adapting to challenges thrown at you'. Print Edition | Subscribe