Bowler Thomas Yong

Relearning the sport after losing eyesight

Thomas Yong, who is blind, bowls with the help of a guide rail.
Thomas Yong, who is blind, bowls with the help of a guide rail.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

The intense stare and the steady gaze kept on the pins are key elements as one approaches the lane before launching the ball. The line of sight is crucial in ensuring that coveted strike in bowling.

Bowler Thomas Yong, 61, could not agree more - but he lost his vision entirely at the age of 22 after a bomb explosion in the army.

He had bowled while he still had his sight but 13 years ago, he had to learn the sport all over again.

He said: "It was mentally and psychologically challenging to start bowling after I lost my sight. Initially, it was quite frustrating and demoralising because I thought I was aiming it straight and I did not expect it to head down into the gutter.

"But I told myself, bowling is me against myself. What we can control, we'll control. So when I feel that I can change something, I take action and make it happen."

HOW HE DID IT

Bowling is me against myself. What we can control, we'll control. So when I feel that I can change something, I take action and make it happen.

THOMAS YONG

One of the oldest athletes to represent the Republic at the upcoming Asean Para Games, this will be the second time he is representing Singapore at the Para Games. The retiree is determined to win more honours after clinching a gold and a silver at the 2011 Asean Para Games in Solo, Indonesia.

As a Para Games bowler, Yong relies on a guide rail aligned to the left gutter, which he stands next to before rolling the ball down the lane.

While he was initially frustrated when he first bowled with a guide rail, Yong started to strike down the pins through help from his coach and by having a mental picture of the lanes.

"My coach will stand beside me to tell me which pins are left standing and give me a rough picture on how to bowl, such as where to aim," he explained.  

"But most of the time, I'll roughly know what to do and how to shift my body position - whether to keep my shoulders slightly opened, closed or perpendicular to the lane. It requires a lot of practice."

Through such sheer dedication and determination, he progressed from striking just one out of the 10 pins to average scores of 120.

He trains five times a week and builds muscle strength through gym workouts. And he feels that his age helps, saying: "Bowling is more of a mental sport, so age is not a disadvantage. One becomes more mellow and clear-headed as one matures.

"Before, nobody would have believed that blind people could take part in these sports. Those who don't know will probably be surprised that despite the difficulties, para athletes can still perform at such a high level."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 06, 2015, with the headline 'Relearning the sport after losing eyesight'. Print Edition | Subscribe