ST Singaporean of the Year nominee: Yip Pin Xiu makes waves at Tokyo Games, and at home

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Nothing has stopped Yip Pin Xiu in 2021. Not the toll of 13 years being an elite para athlete, her disease, Charcot Marie-Tooth, or her rivals at the Tokyo Paralympics, where she won two gold medals.

SINGAPORE - Nothing stopped para swimmer Yip Pin Xiu in 2021.

Not her age and she'll be 30 in January. Not the fact that Tokyo was her fourth Paralympics and 13 years of pushing herself at the elite level is an impressive stretch of time. Not her self-imposed diet which meant no glass of wine - she likes an occasional one - for a whole year and maybe three servings of French fries in 12 months.

Not her disease, Charcot-Marie Tooth, which is a progressive nerve condition and even if you ask her about it she won't whine or crib or ever volunteer information about what she might not be able to do any more.

She'll just shrug it off and say: "It's a question of perspective. If I want to think it's hard, I can. But I don't want to feel sad for myself."

So she slips out of her wheelchair into the water and chases her dreams and loves what she does. Not just the competition, but the practice, the repetition, the pain, the training. And also, she laughs, "the afternoon naps."

Nothing stopped Ms Yip, not even her rivals this year. She'd won a gold and silver at the Paralympics in Beijing 2008 and two golds at Rio 2016. And then this year she won two backstroke golds again at the Tokyo Paralympics. It makes her the very definition of excellence, which is skill demonstrated across time. No athlete in Singapore, ever, has such a persuasive, consistent record.

This itself is enough to nominate her for The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year award and yet Ms Yip is more than a swimmer. She transcends sport, an athlete whose voice travels further than the pool.

"In the past I identified as an athlete," she explains. "But now I see myself as representing other people with disabilities and I see myself as a woman who is more aware of gender issues and equality." And she also believes she represents young people. Laughing down the phone, she says "I think I am still quite youthful."

Ms Yip is slim, invariably polite and constantly wears a smile, but like her wheelchair she's built of solid stuff. When the issue of cash payouts to successful athletes arose this year, she did not back down. She didn't raise the issue but she did not flinch from the questions.

Olympic athletes receive one million dollars for winning a gold medal, but Paralympic athletes received $200,000 for the equivalent feat. When Straits Times reporters asked her about this gap after her two Paralympic golds, Ms Yip was clear: She does not swim for money, but the disparity was conspicuous.

"At the end of the day," she said, "there is a certain inequality there, regardless of what reasons there are."

In the end, the cash payout for Paralympians who win gold was raised to $400,000. Recognition had come and while Ms Yip was grateful she hopes that over the years the gap that still exists with the Olympians will continue to lessen.

It did not matter if everyone agreed with her, what was indisputable was that she had done something remarkable. She was fast in a pool and thoughtful out of it. In foreign lands she ensured a Singaporean anthem was sung, at home she raised a quiet flag of inclusivity.

To vote for the Singaporean of the Year 2021, go to Voting ends Jan 7, 7pm.

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