by Nicolette Mok
Despite his youth, Team Singapore’s Suhairi Suhani has the talent and drive needed to take on the very best.
If anyone had doubts about the future of Singapore para sports, he or she need look no further than track star Suhairi bin Suhani.
An active and affable 18-year-old, the T20 para athlete is just like your regular teenager – but with big dreams, outstanding talent, and the medals to show for it.
Never mind his intellectual disability, which simply meant that he was, as he put it, “slower in [his] studies”. The diligent sportsperson, who is the proud owner of several Special Olympics medals, will next earn his stripes at the 8th ASEAN Para Games (APG) this year.
Having won an athletics gold medal at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games, he went on to clinch another two wins, as well as a bronze medal, at the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games in short track speed skating.
This year’s Special Olympics World Summer Games also witnessed the versatile speed devil bringing home a silver and a bronze medal as he ousted his opponents in the 100-metre and 200-metre athletics races respectively.
Despite his stellar showing in speed skating, the mature youth has decided to focus solely on athletics. Relating the event that sparked his interest in the sport, he said: “I first started running when I was in Primary Four. I was playing ‘catching’ with my friend, and my friend challenged me to a race. I ran as quickly as I could, and realised that I enjoyed running a lot.”
“At first, I didn’t have a coach, so training was difficult. When I first began running, I didn’t know much about technique,” he added.
Unsurprisingly, Suhairi has been working hard to pick up as much as he can from his current coach, former national sprinter Muhamad Hosni bin Muhamad. Speaking about his first-ever APG experience in Myanmar last year, where he qualified for the finals but failed to secure a spot on the podium, he recalled: “There were so many different competitors at the Myanmar APG, and they were all very fast!”
“Now that I know how fast they are, I have asked my coach to push me to be even better for the upcoming APG,” he asserted, revealing that he would be participating in both the 400-metre and the long jump events.
“I hope to achieve new personal bests in my two events at the APG and, hopefully, win a medal.”
Records and medals aside, however, Suhairi harbours the familiar insecurities and complaints that plague most others his age, from competition nerves to training woes.
“Cheers from the home crowd actually make me nervous. This year’s APG will be held on home ground, so I must overcome this. I’m also afraid of people saying bad things about me. But I will just ignore them, walk away, and focus on doing what I’m supposed to do,” he explained.
“Our APG training right now is rather tough, and our coach really does ‘torture’ us. But we have to learn, and be able to overcome our nerves too,” the determined youth continued.
Naturally, such drive comes not without an extraordinary dose of ambition. With aspirations that include dedicating his time fully to para sports and qualifying for next year’s Paralympics, it does seem that Suhairi’s name will be heard frequently in the Singapore sporting scene for years to come.
“I hope to be a good role model to the other para athletes. I would like to talk to other persons with disabilities and tell them about the different para sports available,” he shared.
“If I get a medal at the APG this year, hopefully I’ll go on to get a world ranking to compete at the Paralympics in Rio! Qualifying for the Paralympics will be a dream comes true for me. I’ve always wanted to represent Singapore on the world stage, and to show them what we’ve got.”
Keen on witnessing what Suhairi and his teammates have got. Support them at this year’s 8th ASEAN Para Games, from 3 to 9 December!