Mental strength brings golden reward

Visually impaired swimmer Wong Zhi Wei, 15, (caught in action on a Sony A9) on his way to winning the men's S11-13 100m butterfly at the Asian Youth Para Games in Dubai yesterday. He also won a silver in the 100m backstroke yesterday.
Visually impaired swimmer Wong Zhi Wei, 15, (caught in action on a Sony A9) on his way to winning the men's S11-13 100m butterfly at the Asian Youth Para Games in Dubai yesterday. He also won a silver in the 100m backstroke yesterday.PHOTO: SINGAPORE NATIONAL PARALYMPIC COUNCIL

Even after claiming the 100m butterfly (S11-S13) in a personal best of 1min 9.63sec, para-swimmer Wong Zhi Wei was not able to confirm his Asian Youth Para Games (AYPG) victory yesterday with a glance up at the big screen.

The 15-year-old was born blind in his right eye and has only 6/60 vision in his left, meaning that anything beyond 3-5m is a blur.

But he was able to see the gold medal around his neck well enough - Singapore's first in Dubai at the 3rd AYPG which began on Sunday and ends tomorrow.

Said Zhi Wei, who swims in the S13, the least severe category for athletes with visual impairment: "I came into these Games with the personal expectation of winning at least one gold medal so I'm really satisfied and happy with today, especially because I'm a butterfly swimmer."

The Catholic High Secondary 3 student also clinched a silver medal in the 100m backstroke (S11-S13) yesterday (personal best 1:16.14) and will be swimming in three more events.

Compatriot Colin Soon (1:24.38) was third.

Asean Para Games (APG) double gold medallist Danielle Moi also picked up a bronze in the women's 200m freestyle (S14) in 2:33.25.

Due to his disability, Zhi Wei relies on counting strokes when he swims, especially in the final stretch when he approaches the wall, but considers the mental aspect to be the most important during a race.

"In training I have to depend more on my hearing and touch to hear what my coaches say and feel my body in the water, which helps with my technique," he said.

"But in competition it's more of my mind, just making sure I do what I have to do in the pool."

He added that winning the gold has made him more confident of a future in competitive sport.

Said Zhi Wei, who won a silver in the 100m free (S13) and bronze in the 50m free (S13) at the APG in September: "In the long term, I just want to keep improving. The gold has shown me that I am capable of doing better times and I hope to win more medals in the future."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2017, with the headline 'Mental strength brings golden reward'. Print Edition | Subscribe