Wheeling from milestone to milestone: Theresa Goh
11 September 2017
One of the most recognisable local athletes around, Theresa Goh doesn't need much introduction: she's a 2016 Rio Paralympics bronze medallist, she consistently bags gold medals from each edition of the ASEAN Para Games (APG), she's Singapore's first female Paralympic swimmer, and she frequently lends her voice to social causes that she feels strongly for. Under the gaze of the public eye since she clinched the “Best Female Athlete” at the inaugural ASEAN Para Games in 2001, she has since gone from milestone to milestone in her swimming career, clinching five gold medals and setting two Games Records – that were originally hers – at the 2015 APG.
In a little more than a week, Theresa will cross another milestone of competing at the place where it all started – Kuala Lumpur.
Fearlessly splashing into the Hall of Fame
“It's not destiny, but the people around me who give me courage, and and I not wanting to let people down.”
– Theresa Goh, on what spurs her on to be a pioneer in so many areas.
Having learnt to swim at the age of five, Theresa's first forays into swimming were actually her parents' efforts to get her active and gain strength. Being in the water meant so much more to the young Theresa – it was the place where she felt the most free. By a stroke of fate, she was spotted splashing around in the pool seven years later by a volunteer recruiting for the Singapore Disability Sports Council. What happened next was the start of Theresa's illustrious swimming career – and probably local sporting history.
Starting out swimming competitively during para-sport's infancy in Singapore, Theresa has witnessed and experienced its stunning development first-hand. She was part of the country's growing acceptance and inclusion of para-athletes, lifting public awareness of para-sports to new heights in 2001, mostly due to a winning display of her prowess in the pool during the inaugural APG in Kuala Lumpur.
“It was a good first APG because they gave out the awards for the best male and female athletes of the Games, and I got the latter. That kind of set a precedence for me in the future,” says Theresa.
She was also the first female swimmer to represent Singapore at the Paralympics in the 2004 Athens Games, and would later participate in every edition after that.
Besides winning medals in regional, Asian and global swim events, Theresa has received countless awards and even a Public Service Medal, racking up a string of achievements more numerous than many of her peers. Yet she remains very sober about what she has done in her 16-years-and-growing swim career.
Her experience during the Beijing 2008 Paralympics stands out as a reminder of the reality of being an athlete. “Because I thought so often that there was no way I was going to lose a medal, once I lost it, it dawned on me that, 'oh, the world is not run by me.'. People are going to fight you for the medal, and you may not got a happy ending sometimes,” she explains.
The feeling of not making it to the podium in Beijing after four years of intense preparation for it took a toll on her, and led to her first major break down. “It is the worst period of my life. I think it was the only time my coaches always saw me cry.”
“It was just not knowing how to handle failure, as my journey at that time had always been good. It came down to this period of four years of doing nothing but swimming which I thought would have helped me get my medal. Too much of one thing is bad, so I was burnt out by the middle of the third year.”
#ICYMI: Check out Theresa's canvas on Facebook (only on mobile)
Like the champion she was, she got out of the slump wiser and with two valuable takeaways – that recovery and knowing where your limits lay before you burn out were important to a sportsperson.
“I became more aware of how I felt – if I needed to rest, I'll rest. There's really no point to push yourself to do something if you really don't want to. It will be more beneficial to take a day of rest and then come back for a whole two weeks, than burning out for one week and don't come back for a month. So it's that feeling of knowing yourself,” she reveals.
Eight years after the slump, she perfected her formula for success – her bronze medal at Rio 2016 is a result of that. What will happen when Theresa competes at the 2017 APG? That's something that swimming fans in the region will soon find out.
Read on to find out what Theresa has up her sleeves as she journeys to the 9th ASEAN Para Games in KL!
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