Toh Sze Ning in action assisted by ramp assistant [Photo by Sport Singapore / Action Images via Reuters]
Team Singapore Boccia player Toh Sze Ning won the Republic’s first medal in Boccia on Monday after finishing second behind Thailand’s Tanimpat Visaratanunta, but her greatest accomplishment was perhaps off the court.
From being a very shy girl who could not speak to anyone, Toh has come a long way and has now gained the confidence to confront social situations as well as the mental independence to voice her own opinions.
“I remember the first few weeks and months, she doesn’t even speak much. She was very soft spoken and had no confidence. Many of the times, we had to tell her what to do, and she just said okay to everything,” said her Team Manager Kenneth Soh.
“But now, she has been travelling. Recently she went to Colombia and this year she went to Hong Kong as well.”
While her disability continues to limit her physical independence, she has made improvements on the mental front by leaps and bounds.
Toh used to remain quiet when asked a question, but after participating in Boccia, she now has the confidence to speak out and make decisions for herself.
“I think the independence and the ability to be free is something that I have seen in her - something that I can really celebrate with her,” he said.
“Independence in terms of the freedom to think, to decide certain things and make choices. I think these are things that are pretty empowering.”
Five years ago, the 22-year-old athlete would have been tongue-tied when faced with a crowd of media, but on Monday, she confidently faced a camera and answered questions
“She would be frozen if the same thing happened five years back. Over these six, seven years, this is the transformation that I have seen,” Soh said.
Toh is in the BC3 class, where the athletes suffer from severe disability and are unable to throw the ball themselves. They therefore require a ramp as well as an assistant to partake in the sport.
As such, communication between the player and assistant is crucial in winning the game. And Toh’s silver medal is proof that she has made tremendous progress in that area.
“You can see when she plays the game, she tells the assistant what to do, not the other way round like last time,” Soh said.
However, social skills are not the only area where Toh has grown as a person. Boccia has also given her a mental grit to persevere and overcome difficulties.
“I would say that she has grown to be strong, to face a setback and say ‘let’s move on, and let’s play a good game after that’,” Soh said.
“She actually lost 8-0 in a group stage match. But she has done well in the semi-finals and put up a good fight in the finals.”