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Team Singapore

Swim champ Theresa keen for para sports to make the grade

by Alison Chin

Team Singapore’s Theresa Goh continues to lead the charge for a rapidly developing local para sports community.

swimming theresa

On top of her game for the past 15 years, Theresa Goh has amassed a remarkable collection of medals, finding success at almost every level of competition she has challenged herself with. Those in the know will also remember her as the country’s very first swimmer to make the cut for the Paralympics, when she represented Singapore during Athens 2004, at the tender age of 17.

The breaststroke specialist has certainly journeyed very far in an endeavour that was once nothing more than a recreational family activity.

Although she readily admitted her success was unexpected, Theresa believed that other persons with disabilities could follow in her footsteps and push themselves further, if they were emboldened to, instead of discouraged.

“Even though I know I have a disability, it isn’t something that I should use as a reason to hinder myself. I think that as a society, we should never place the disability first, but the person first. Even when you see someone in a wheelchair, you shouldn’t automatically assume that they can’t do certain things,” she shared.

“Recently, I’ve begun to really believe that it isn’t a person who is disabled; we are disabled by our surroundings. If people build stuff to make sure we have everyone in mind, we wouldn’t feel so disabled.”

Theresa’s mind-set has much to do with the way she was brought up, by parents who treated her no differently from her able-bodied siblings, in spite of congenital spina bifida. Those who have care for and supported her throughout her sporting career will finally get the chance to cheer Theresa on in a noteworthy meet this December - the 8th ASEAN Para Games (APG).

“I cannot wait to compete in front of friends and family. It will be the first time that this happens. Of course, I’m hoping it won’t be the last, but it’ll be a historical moment, especially for Singapore, which has never hosted an international disability sports event. It’ll be something I hope Singaporeans can take away something from, learn from and understand the para sports community a bit better,” Theresa said.

The three-time Singapore Disability Sports Council’s Sportswoman of the Year has her sights set on retaining the titles she picked up from the previous APG in Naypyidaw.

Besides harbouring hopes for Team Singapore’s APG contingent to lead the sports pages of national newspapers this December, Theresa was also keen to discuss the development of the local para sport community, a topic she deemed as the “bigger picture”.

“One really significant change I’d like to point out is that news on para sports used to be in the ‘Home’ section [of the newspapers] because we were not even regarded as sports. Now, every time news about us is in the sports section, it is a big step because at least we’re being recognised. We’re also supported by organisations like Singapore Sports Institute and Sport Singapore,” she acknowledged.

“When the media does coverage on us, treating us the same as our able-bodied athletes, or when supporters know we’re not just doing this for rehabilitation but because we want to do our nation and ourselves proud, and we train so hard, it’s little things like these that help me and the para sports community in Singapore grow.”

With a keen understanding of the progress achieved and the steps yet to be taken, Theresa’s accomplishments in the pool also make her a compelling example of the success para athletes can achieve when given the avenues to do so.

The 28-year old is aware of the part she plays, and is unsurprisingly approaching it with a winner’s mentality.

“There are many issues to think about, but the main thing is I don’t place limitations on myself, whether or not society places it on me. That mind-set really helps in building the person that I am, and pushing myself beyond my limits,” Theresa revealed.

“It’s about doing what I want to do, doing what is right, and doing what I think will help, without thinking about being a role model.”