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Bringing Boccia to the fore

by Nicolette Mok 

Top Boccia player and all-round talent Nurul Taha gives us the low-down on her sport.

boccia nurulasyiqah

Those in touch with Singapore’s para sports scene are likely to have heard of Nurulasyiqah Mohammad Taha, a name that is synonymous with boccia.

Ranked 8th in the world in her Boccia BC3 Individual category, 30-year-old Nurul was the first Singaporean to compete in Boccia at the London Paralympic Games in 2012. The Singapore Management University accountancy graduate, who is on a sabbatical from her job at the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore, has been training full-time under Sport Singapore’s spexScholarship for the past one-and-a-half years.

On top of that, she spends time imparting boccia tips to younger players – “the future of Singapore boccia” – weekly at the Muscular Dystrophy Association Singapore, where she also sits on the executive committee as an Assistant Honorary Treasurer.

For her contribution towards sports in Singapore and efforts to make a difference in the lives of people with physical disabilities, Nurul was named a recipient of the 2014 Singapore Youth Award, the highest honour that may be conferred to local youths.

Ahead of the 8th ASEAN Para Games (APG) and the 2015 Boccia World Open in Colombia, a 2016 Paralympic Games qualifier, the well-rounded individual made time to introduce us to her sport and, in the process, provide a glimpse of her drive, passion, and aspirations.

Born with spinal muscular atrophy, Nurul learnt of this para sport in 2003, while working on a community project in university. She was intrigued by how a sport could be inclusive towards people of different abilities. She approached the Singapore Disability Sports Council for a try-out and has not looked back since.

Explaining the basics of her sport, she said: “The objective is to propel as many of your balls as close as possible to a target ball known as the “jack”. It can be played in three events: individual, pairs, or team. Like any other para sport, it has classifications for its athletes based on their disability types and levels. There are four classifications in boccia: BC1 to BC4. I’m in the BC3 category.”

“Our sports assistants play a very major role – they’re our arms and legs on court! We BC3 athletes cannot move our arms to throw the balls, so they play a very important role in helping us to execute our shots,” she continued.

Nurul made her international debut at the 2010 Boccia World Championships in Portugal where she clinced a bronze medal in the BC3 Individual category despite an exigency to change sports assistants before the competition and equipment mishap during the competition.

Enthusing about the sport’s unpredictability, she shared: “No two boccia matches are the same. You can start every game in the same way, with the same moves, but you will always end [it] differently. That’s what I find so interesting about Boccia.”

The dedicated athlete also added that she enjoyed the social aspect of Boccia, as it has given her opportunities to form firm friendships with her team of sports assistants and volunteers – or what she terms as her “Boccia kampung”.

The chance to interact with overseas rivals also appeals to this accidental polyglot, who is conversant in the Korean language and is now learning to speak Japanese in preparation for the Tokyo Paralympic Games in 2020.

“What sparked this was my first regional Boccia competition. I learnt there that the Koreans were the best players! Because of my disability, I can’t really gesture much and I can’t use body language to communicate. So I went back and decided that I had to learn the language! I now know enough Korean to discuss Boccia with them,” she revealed.

Having garnered so much experience and learnt from experts overseas, Singapore’s very own leading boccia exponent was keen to offer some insights on the progression of the local scene.

“Over the years, we’ve gained a lot more boccia players. We also have more volunteers now; including students who want to volunteer regularly,” Nurul remarked.

“People are a lot more aware but, of course, more can be done. Para sports should also be made more visible using the media, especially free-to-air-TV and the Internet. It needs to be a lot easier and convenient for people to watch para sports.”

Meanwhile, Nurul hopes that Singaporeans will discover more about her passion by coming down to support para athletes in action at the 8th APG. She will be fighting to defend her two APG gold medals (an individual and a pairs one with partner Toh Sze Ning) at the OCBC Arena from 3 to 9 December 2015!