APG2018: Zac Leow revels in major Games run despite injury
12 October 2018
Something in his running gait indicated all was not well as Zac Leow took the bell for the final lap of his men’s 1,500m T37/38 final this morning (12 Oct) at the Gelora Bung Karno main stadium. Behind him, Teofilo Freitas was breasting the tape to win Timor Leste’s first gold medal of the Games, to the delight of supporters from the small nation.
While Zac would be last of the six-man field to reach the finish line, the 32-year-old still put in a final burst, determined to finish his race with a flourish. As the spectators cheered his every stride down the final straight, Zac stopped the clock at 6 mins 0.63 secs.
Zac Leow decided to compete despite carrying a hip and quadricep strain. Photo Sport Singapore
He then turned to bow to the crowd, and ran over to give high fives to the outstretched hands. Then he bowed again and took his racing top off to hand to one of the fans.
For a while, it seemed he would also give away his fluorescent yellow running shoes but an official quickly stepped in to retrieve and return his shirt. Unlike in football, track runners aren’t allowed to give their shirts away, and Zac’s attempt even earned him a yellow card.
That mattered little to the Singaporean, who after what he’d gone through, shouldn’t even be walking, much less running and competing at a major Games.
A bicycle accident in November 2013 left him with a damage spinal cord, impeding everything from neck down. He was in hospital for six weeks, fully paralysed and had to relearn simple actions like scratching his head, showering himself and eating with a spoon.
“I had good support from my then girlfriend, family and a superb healthcare system,” he said. “I’m also a man of faith and religion helped me get through those trying times.”
And he went back to running, which he used to do before the accident, having been “badly overweight” during his Army days. He soon found out how good he was, as he won a silver at the 2015 ASEAN Para Games held at home in Singapore.
But donning national colours was something beyond his wildest dreams.
Zac Leow kept a steady pace before putting in a final burst in his 1,500m race. Photo Sport Singapore
“I’ve never thought of coming to a major Games, to be honest, my intention was never to compete, rather to be back running and to be more ‘normal’, so to speak, and to challenge myself in my daily life,” he said.
“So, when I was given the opportunity to race and represent the country, I was overjoyed, and slowly I got better at what I do, and here I am today. It’s amazing, I still can’t believe that I’m representing Singapore.”
Competing in Jakarta had been a challenge for Zac, made worse by a hip and quadricep strain that refused to get better. That put a dent in his quest for a personal best in the region of 5mins 30secs at this meet.
Conditions at the track wasn’t ideal either. Humidity and heat radiating off the track at the mid-morning hour wasn’t what he was used to.
“I’m based in Perth and it’s winter right now, so it’s quite a dramatic step up in temperature,” said Zac, who’s finishing his PhD in Sports Science this year-end at the University of Western Australia.
But it did not stop him from deciding to put in his best effort, and his celebrations were genuine, if not spontaneous.
“It was not something I really planned to do but I could feel the warmth coming from their hearts and I wanted to reciprocate,” said Zac.
“The crowd has been fantastic. It’s not just a matter of cheering for their own country. They cheered every competitor, including the last runner. It was very motivating and encouraging.
This campaign done, and it’s time to regroup for the next big goal.
“I need to get well again and I definitely want to qualify for Tokyo 2020,” he said.
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