Medal or not, they're winners

National para-swimmers Theresa Goh (left) and Yip Pin Xiu at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. PHOTO: SPORT SINGAPORE

When Yip Pin Xiu used the word "journey" to describe what it took for her and fellow para-swimmer Theresa Goh to win the medals that hung around their necks at the ongoing Paralympic Games in Rio, she could not have picked a better word. Born with muscular dystrophy, Yip was 16 when she won gold at the 2008 Beijing Games - Singapore's first Paralympic champion - and since then has been the country's poster girl for para-sports. But even then, recognition for her and other para-athletes has been slow, with Singaporeans largely unaccustomed to the idea of persons with disabilities leading active and sporty lifestyles.

But that has slowly changed, with the likes of para-equestrian rider and four-time Paralympic medallist Laurentia Tan among those changing perceptions. Singapore's hosting of the Asean Para Games last year, and a local contingent that won a record 63 medals, including 24 golds, ensured that there was greater visibility than ever for para-sports.

The past week has upped the ante as Yip and Goh made waves in Brazil. Their achievements have been lauded by many Singaporeans and even beyond these shores. AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes has promised them, as well as other Paralympic medallists from Asean, free flights and their feats were also featured on BBC's website.

Such support is indicative of Singapore's progress towards a more inclusive society. The Singapore Disability Sports Council received $2.3 million in government funding last year, up from $1.06 million in 2005. This year's biennial Singapore National Games included five para-sports for the first time.

When Olympic champion Joseph Schooling returned from Rio last month, the red carpet was rolled out to commemorate his historic win. Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu has announced that there are plans to celebrate the achievements of Singapore's Paralympians. Hopefully, a similar welcome is in store for Yip and Co when the main contingent returns next Wednesday. All of them are winners - regardless of whether there are medals around their necks.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2016, with the headline 'Medal or not, they're winners'. Print Edition | Subscribe