Helping hands along the road to glory

25 September, 2015   Qiu Yonghui

Majority of Singaporeans would be able to tell you who the local sports icons are: Joseph Schooling, Charmaine Soh and Dipna Lim-Prasad, for example, are among the few talented athletes who are households names. But less well known are the athletes whom we should be equally, if not more proud of – the para athletes of the upcoming ASEAN Para Games.

Singapore’s para athletes will be seen as relative newcomers to the field compared to our neighbours who have at least a decade of experience. But in gearing up for the upcoming Games, they have been training hard to do their bit for our country.

Liu Teck Hua_Track and Field_AthleteSingapore's Para sprinter Liu Teck Hua

Para sprinter Liu Teck Hua is one such individual. Once a competitive swimmer, he now trains four times a week at the track and schedules weekly gym sessions.

“At first my wife was not very supportive,” he shared, sheepishly admitting that his dedicated training routine takes away valuable time from his family of 4. “But I brought [my wife] down to one of my lessons to see what training is like and also to the SEA Games, so I think now she understands better.”

Tenpin bowler Kalvin Tay has also sacrificed time and income from his day job as an LTA surveyor in order to make his training sessions, held four times a week. He only started tenpin bowling in earnest two years ago, as such he has relied heavily on the bowling community, getting together with them during and after training to share tactics and provide mutual support.

Kalvin Tay_Tenpin Bowling_AthleteSingapore's Tenpin bowler Kalvin Tay

Part of this support network includes the coaches, who have a huge role to play in nurturing the new athletes of our nation. Fortunately, these officials have been extremely dedicated to this commitment.

Richard Tan, a veteran football coach of 30 years, organises transport and pick-up locations for his Football 5-a-side athletes. As extra motivation, he also brings pre-training snacks and plans the occasional training trip to Marina Bay Sands.

Of course, it’s not all fun and games. Training is crafted carefully to fit the needs and proficiency of the athletes.

Goalball coach Nikita Sharda describes a typical training session: the visually challenged athletes begin warm-ups by holding hands and doing their runs together from goalpost to goalpost. To train ball-handling skills, the accuracy, strength and direction of throws are honed by repeatedly executing directional throws at Nikita, who either claps or shouts to allow the athletes to orientate themselves.

Nikita Sharda_Goalball_CoachNikita Sharda, Singapore's Goalball coach 

“Sometimes we want them to work under pressure, so for one minute we keep throwing balls at them,” Nikita explains. “That way, they’ll be more prepared for the fast balls that are coming for them from the other teams.” For men’s goalball, the speed of such throws can exceed 60km/h.

Richard also pushes his athletes (Football 5-a-side) to their limits, making sure to encourage them to give 10% more each session, in order to produce a steady improvement. Wanting his athletes to achieve the best performance, he works alongside an assistant, who creates tailored strength training regimes for his players with cerebral palsy.

But training is not the only thing on Richard’s mind.

Richard Tan_Football 5-a-side Coach_SingaporeRichard Tan, Singapore's football 5-a-side's coach

“I tell them: look after each other, protect each other, we laugh together, we have a party together – a lot of motivation comes in,” he elaborates. “At the end of the day, I want to make them proud and make their family proud. Once you make them see what they can do, the hard training becomes a minor issue.”

The road to becoming an athlete and representing Singapore is never easy, but the para athletes who are undertaking this task have the drive and passion to succeed in their fields.

They meet obstacles which perhaps the ordinary able-bodied man would not encounter— at the bowling venue, for example, Kalvin must rely on his teammates to help him down a flight of 10 stairs—but these athletes have chosen to rise to the challenge, and that makes their sacrifice and determination all the more laudable.

Register your interest to catch the 8th ASEAN Para Games here!