Main route may be out but a detour can be link

Claire Toh, on her way to the Singapore Sports Institute for training, says there is no point brooding when she can learn to be self-reliant.
Claire Toh, on her way to the Singapore Sports Institute for training, says there is no point brooding when she can learn to be self-reliant.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Claire Toh, 22, table tennis

Spinal cord injury

Training has increased in the last few months to five times a week. It takes me about 11/2 hours using the bus and MRT to get from Jurong West to the Singapore Sports Institute at Kallang.

My journey....

I had always dreamt of representing Singapore since I picked up table tennis in primary school.

Even though I switched to basketball later on in secondary school, playing table tennis for Singapore was always at the back of my head - until my accident in 2012, when I fell from the fourth storey of a condominium and became paralysed from the chest down.

I spent four months at Changi General Hospital. I had surgery on my spine and was intubated because my lungs were injured.

I lost my voice for two weeks and couldn't communicate.

I didn't even know that I was paralysed until the physiotherapist came with a wheelchair.

Not knowing the severity of my injury, I thought it was only temporary and I asked her how long I would need it. I cried when she said, 'Long term'.

Eventually, I decided there was no point crying. Even if I were to wallow in self-pity for one or two years, at some stage, I needed to get on with my life.

Was I being positive?

No. I was just being realistic.

I've never thought about whether I could walk again.

There's no point brooding.

I just want to be independent.

But playing sports didn't seem that important at that time. My occupational therapist encouraged me to try hand-cycling but I was reluctant.

Maybe I was still in denial.

I did try it after some hesitation and it was actually fun. I enjoyed it and she told me that was the first time I had smiled in a long time.

Later, my basketball coach introduced me to a member of SDSC (Singapore Disability Sports Council) and I started playing table tennis again in 2013.

I remember that first training session. Sitting down instead of standing, it was so difficult to get the ball across the net.

It was like I was playing a completely new game.

I refused to give up though and by the end of that day, I was hitting the ball much better and slowly improved after a few more sessions.

So to be here, about to make my debut, is just amazing. It's a mixture of nervousness and excitement.

This is my first APG and I might not accomplish much but I want to do my family and friends proud.

Although I lost my mobility, it hasn't hindered me from moving forward in life.

There may be things that I can't do now that I'm in a wheelchair but it's also possible to find another way to do the same thing.

Maybe it takes a little longer, a little detour. But I'll still get there.

Claire Toh's daily commute to training begins on bus 242.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 22, 2015, with the headline 'Main route may be out but a detour can be link'. Print Edition | Subscribe