Asean Para Games: Staying composed through taunts and nerves

Pranav C. Balu will compete in his maiden Asean Para Games, which start in Kuala Lumpur today. The striker knows that expectations are high for the national cerebral palsy football team, who won bronze in the 2015 Games in Singapore. However, he beli
Pranav C. Balu will compete in his maiden Asean Para Games, which start in Kuala Lumpur today. The striker knows that expectations are high for the national cerebral palsy football team, who won bronze in the 2015 Games in Singapore. However, he believes that having a positive outlook will help calm his nerves.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Disability sport in Singapore has enjoyed a boost following the country's hosting of the 2015 Asean Para Games. With more para-athletes being uncovered, The Straits Times looks at the last of three APG debutants at Kuala Lumpur 2017, when the Republic will field its largest away contingent of 90 athletes.

His schoolmates taunted and provoked him, yet Pranav C. Balu chose to tolerate the abuse - just so he could keep playing football.

Born with hemiplegia, which restricts movement on the right side of his body, Pranav would stay silent or walk away from the bullying even at the tender age of 12 five years ago.

Recalling those incidents, Pranav told The Sunday Times: "I wanted to fight back, but then I thought, 'What will happen to my chance of playing football if I have a disciplinary record for fighting?' "

When others, including his parents, asked why he did not retaliate, Pranav - who was on the football team at First Toa Payoh Primary School and Northlight School - would answer: "I don't want to get into trouble, my coaches and team-mates all trust me and I don't want to do something that I will regret."

Perhaps it was this even-keeled temperament which led the ITE College Central student to be selected as the youngest member of the national cerebral palsy (CP) football team.

And as the striker prepares with the team for his maiden Asean Para Games, which start in Kuala Lumpur today, he feels that keeping a cool head all those times has paid off.

"I'm on the right path, the past has passed and I'm looking forward to the future," he said.

Still, he is happy to revisit memories of the past year, starting from the moment he was approached by national assistant coach Sabri Mahmod at a coaching clinic by the Fandi Ahmad Football Club to join the CP national squad.

It was, according to Pranav, a "dream come true". Yet he admits that the experience has had its "ups and downs".

A happy moment was scoring a goal against Tanglin Secondary School in a friendly match, which the CP footballers eventually won.

"The challenges are that I couldn't control the ball as well as I wanted to, and because of my height it's difficult to receive the high balls," said the 1.52m Pranav.

To work on his weaknesses, he does 30 jumps daily on a trampoline, as well as regular weight training.

He also spends about five hours a day watching football videos on YouTube - an activity that has led to lectures from his father about too much screen time.

Said Pranav: "I always (replied), 'Never mind, I'm playing in my first APG and I need to learn something'. And my father would say, 'Okay, show me what you've got. At the APG, I want you to play well'."

Pranav has to, for he has big shoes to fill in the team, who charged to a bronze medal at the previous APG in Singapore in 2015.

In KL, Pranav will aim to play his part in retaining at least the bronze - a prospect which he admits makes him nervous.

"But I'll never show it," he added. "I'll just smile - whatever difficulties you're going through, you have to smile."

National CP football coach Mohamed Zainudeen Hassan said Pranav is indeed always "very jovial" during training, but what has impressed him most is the youngster's commitment to improving.

"He's always so early for training," said Zainudeen. "He always asks questions about how to improve, and he's a very receptive learner."

Pranav's parents will not be making the trip up to KL, as his father is a dialysis patient and his mother, a York Hotel telephone operator, is the family's sole breadwinner. However, he will take their words of encouragement with him.

"My parents constantly motivate me and remind me that, even if I try hard, I may not be able to achieve my goals sometimes, but I still have to keep trying and believing in myself," he said.

"They tell me I have to have good character, attitude and discipline."

Those words of advice served him well when dealing with his schoolmates in the past, and he hopes it will now help him conquer nerves and expectations in KL.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 17, 2017, with the headline 'Staying composed through taunts and nerves'. Print Edition | Subscribe