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The Silent Pillars Behind Singapore’s Sailing Gold

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DPM Teo Chee Hean (back L) and National Development Minister Lawrence Wong (back R) pose with gold medallist, Yap Qian Yin (C), silver medallist Cherrie Samonte Pinpin of the Philippines (L) and her compatriot bronze medallist Clytie Orencio Bernardo [Photo by Sport Singapore / Action Images via Reuters]

Yap Qian Yin dominated her individual sailing event throughout the 8th ASEAN Para Games and emerged champion in the Women’s Single Person Hansa 2.3 Dingy category, but winning the gold wasn’t for herself - it was for her family.

Concerned about her family’s incessant worrying over her well-being, Qian Yin started sailing to show them she was independent and capable of living a fulfilling life. And on Tuesday, she did just that with a gold medal.

“I thought to take up sailing to show my mum that even though I am on wheelchair, I am still living happily and I can do what I have been doing in the past and maybe even more,” the Team Singapore sailor said.

Behind her public success and bubbly demeanour, however, lies a heartbreaking tale of misfortune and hardship.

At a tender age of four when most children were still leading carefree lives, Qian Yin contracted leukaemia. It eventually went into remission, but unfortunately relapsed when she was a teenager.

Subsequent chemotherapy treatments had helped treat the cancer, but a side effect from the chemotherapy had caused an inflammation in her spinal cord and resulted in paraplegia.

She was only 17-years-old when doctors told her she wouldn’t be able to walk anymore, and was inevitably devastated. 

“Instantly, I broke down and I cried. I cried very badly, like someone just passed away,” she said.

“At that point of time, I told myself that I am going to prove the doctor wrong. I’m going to show him that I’m going to walk someday, and also to prove to my mum and myself that life is going to be maybe the same or even better.”


Team Singapore Yap Qian Yin after her sail  [Photo by Sport Singapore / Action Images via Reuters]

The ordeal, which might have left a lesser person bitter and resentful, did not affect Qian Yin’s sunny disposition one bit. If anything, it taught her the value of her family’s love and support.

“I wouldn’t have been able to come this far without their support. Even though they don’t really express it because we are from a very traditional family background but they do it through their actions,” she said.

“Whatever I do, they don’t really ask a lot but they give me the support. So whenever I am tired, or when I need a shoulder to lean back on, they are always there.”

“They are little things like my sister offering me a ride between home and my training. And when I set out for sailing, sometimes I will drive, so my mum will actually stand there and see me off.”

“It’s these little sweet things and actions that have touched me a lot.”

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