On Khairul Anwar’s first birthday, he was afflicted with a neurological disorder that affected his muscles and movements after an unfortunate fall.
However, it wasn't until he was in primary school where he realised he was different from the rest of the children.
Team Singapore Cerebral Palsy Football captain Khairul Anwar at the Singapore Sports Institute. Photo: Sport Singapore
“Since I was young, I struggled to do physical activities,” said the 29-year-old who suffers from cerebral palsy. “But you know when you are young... We don’t think about what is happening to us, so I didn’t really see a problem when I was young.”
“When I was in primary school, that’s where I noticed there’s a difference between me and my friends, because of my cognitive [abilities], my movement and my coordination. That’s when I realised.”
But through participation in sports, therapy and diligence on Khairul's part, the captain of Singapore's cerebral palsy football team has managed to overcome his condition and went on to win second place at the last ASEAN Para Games in Myanmar.
Today, there’s little indication the Republic Polytechnic student is suffering from a movement disorder despite the stereotypes usually associated with cerebral palsy.
“If you were to meet me when I was seven, I was limping, and my right hand was going inwards. But through therapy, through being active in terms of physical activities, everything is fine. I can carry weights and do a lot of things actually,” he said.
“Doing sports, especially football or even running, it really helps me a lot. It really helps me to carry on with my daily life. If not the muscle stiffness will give me difficulties, but with football, everything is good.”
The inspiring story of Khairul, however, is not an uncommon one. It is a familiar narrative with many other members of the cerebral palsy football team.
“The game has definitely developed them physically. Not only from what we do on the pitch but from the gym work, the strength work and conditioning over these few months,” coach Mohamed Zainudeen said.
“All of them, generally, they are happy. They know they are improving and that’s why they keep coming week in week out.”
For now, Khairul and his team are relishing the prospect of making Singapore proud at the 8th ASEAN Para Games in December as it will be the first time the island-state is hosting the competition.
“We have been looking forward to this for many years actually because we have been playing overseas,” he said. “Even though we played at the Asian Games in Incheon, which is a bigger stage, but this to us is really, really big.”
“After playing football for more than a decade, playing at home with the crowd support is really a dream come true for us.”