SINGAPORE - Clean cut and sporting a shy smile, Toh Wei Soong is regarded as the new face of Singapore para swimming, particularly after making a splash at last year's Asian Para Games in Jakarta, where he won two golds and a bronze.
While hopes were high for the swimmer to make an impact in his maiden outing at the World Para Swimming Championships in London last month, Toh returned home empty-handed, qualifying for three finals but missing out on a podium spot.
But Toh believes that the world meet has helped him identify mistakes that he hopes to eliminate before his debut at the Tokyo Paralympics next year.
"My first World Championships, especially at the iconic Olympic Park, (was) an experience I won't forget," said Toh, who was speaking on the sidelines of Toyota's Start Your Impossible initiative at the Singapore Sports Hub on Saturday (Oct 5).
"There are many things I have had to work on since coming back to Singapore and while these are not mistakes I would have liked to make, I think they are (the ones) I needed to make to make myself a better swimmer and go further in my sport.
"At the end of the day, making three out of five finals is not too bad for a first time experience."
Swimming in the 50m, 100m and 400m freestyle, 50m butterfly, and 100m backstroke (S7 classification), Toh qualified for the finals of three events, placing seventh in the 50m fly and 100m free and eighth in the 50m free.
Declining to elaborate on his mistakes in London, Toh said they were little "technical things", adding wryly that there were "too many to count".
"These are mistakes you want to make before the Paralympic Games and not during the Games itself," he added. "So I'm grateful that I still have some time to correct these mistakes, and coaches with whom I can work with to make sure (they) are not repeated when it really counts."
Toh, who picked up the Sportsboy of the Year gong at the Singapore Disability Sports Awards in May, is coached by former national swimmer Ang Peng Siong, Alex Ang and Osamu Gushi.
A first-year undergraduate at the National University of Singapore, he rose to prominence at the 2015 Asean Para Games in Singapore, winning three golds before adding another two gold medals and a silver at the next edition in Kuala Lumpur two years later. He also bagged a bronze at last year's Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast.
The 21-year-old was diagnosed with transverse myelitis (an inflammation of the spinal cord, which restricts the use of his legs) when he was two and began swimming competitively when he was eight.
At Saturday's dialogue session, he shared his journey as a national athlete with about 20 aspiring para athletes, parents and members of the disability sports fraternity. The other speakers were para swimmer Wong Zhi Wei and Ferin Fu, mother of para swimmer Nicole Fu.
Said Toh: "I've always wanted to inspire youth with impairments to pick up sports and chase their dreams. Together with the rest of the para sports community, I am certain that we will see the next generation of para athletes rise up."
Samuel Yong, director of marketing and business strategy at Borneo Motors (Singapore) said: "At Borneo Motors, we view equality amongst individuals as a human need, and we're humbled to be championing a meaningful cause.
"Heroes like Wei Soong are wonderful role models to young people. We see him living out the 'Start Your Impossible' spirit in his everyday work.
"We're grateful to be supporting him and our partners at the Singapore Disability Sports Council as they continue to inspire the lives of many."