'The sight of stars makes me dream': Paralympics remain on the minds of Singapore's athletes despite COVID-19 uncertainty

'The sight of stars makes me dream': Paralympics remain on the minds of Singapore's athletes despite COVID-19 uncertainty

Attendees of the Singapore Disability Sports Awards
Some of the attendees that were present at the virtual Singapore Disability Sports Awards (Photo: SDSC)

SINGAPORE: A particular quote by painter Vincent Van Gogh resonated with cyclist Steve Tee during the uncertainty of what he calls the "COVID-19 period".

"He said something like: 'For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.' And I realised that our (star) is the Paralympics, so I cannot lose sight of it," Tee told CNA.

"We are still continuing to work on it and at the same time, we keep our fingers crossed, hope for the best and prepare for the worst."

Tee, who will represent Singapore at next year's coronavirus-postponed Paralympics, was one of the athletes recognised for their achievements and contributions at the Singapore Disability Sports Awards on Friday (Aug 7).  

He was nominated for the Sportsman of the Year award, which was won by bowler Eric Foo.

Eric Foo at the Asian Games 2018
Eric Foo at the 2018 Asian Para Games. (Photo: Sport Singapore)

Organised by the Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC), this year’s awards were presented by Haw Par Corporation. The ceremony was held virtually and the event was streamed live on SDSC’s Facebook page. 

Speaking at the awards ceremony, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong praised the athletes for their "unwavering commitment". 

"The 2020 ASEAN Para Games has been cancelled and the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics has been postponed. I'm sure that has led to disappointment. But our athletes have continued to adapt, continue to train, keep themselves motivated despite these extraordinary circumstances," said Mr Tong. 

"To our athletes, we hope that you remain motivated, you remain encouraged. And as you resume training and gear up towards the next competition, you can be sure that we are behind you and will cheer you on as One Team Singapore."

READ: Local athletes welcome Olympics postponement, but uncertainties still remain

Along with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the Paralympics were also postponed in March due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The decision to delay the 2020 Games over the pandemic means the Paralympics are now scheduled to run from Aug 24, 2021 to Sep 5, 2021.

"Initially, everything was quite a mess and I was in limbo for a few days back then," said Tee. "After talking to some people, I realised I should focus on the things I can still control, so I have continued to train for the Paralympics."

Steve Tee, ACP Ang Kee Meng
Steve Tee with Ang Kee Meng. (Photo: SDSC)

For tandem para-cycling, a visually impaired athlete, called the stoker, is paired with a sighted counterpart, who is known as the pilot. Along with his pilot Ang Kee Meng, Tee finished with a bronze at the 2019 Asian Track Championships and won gold at the 2019 Thailand Para Cycling Cup.

The postponement has given Tee and Ang the opportunity to refine their training processes, said the former.

"Now we have more time to improve ourselves. So we took a step back, reflected and re-evaluated what was important in the (training) programme where we can work and improve our weaknesses. So I guess it was a blessing in disguise," said Tee.

"WE ARE ABLE TO BE RESILIENT"

For archer Nur Syahidah Alim, who won the Sportswoman of the Year award, 2019 was a "breakthrough" year.

She won gold at the World Para Archery Championship as well as at the Asian Para Archery Championship. Syahidah also secured Singapore a berth at the Paralympics. 

And while these plans have been put on hold until next year, Syahidah said she harbours no disappointment at the postponement.

Nur Syahidah Alim
Nur Syahidah Alim training. (Photo: SDSC)

"I think they have made a good decision. If you look at it in a positive way, it gives everyone a fair playing field to prepare for the Games. At the same time, to have the ease of mind that we are competing in a safe environment," she explained.

"There will definitely be changes to the sporting arena but I think we as athletes are very good at adapting to changes, and I believe we are able to be resilient and go through with it."

Syahidah said that her training plans have been disrupted in the past few months, but sessions have progressively returned to high intensity.

"During the circuit breaker period, I have been training at home. Before the pandemic, I had gotten so used to training at high intensity levels at the gym and the training range ... It's definitely different from training outdoors, but I'm glad with phase 2, I am able to continue my outdoor training and the range and at the gym," she said.

"I feel that now it is more about getting back on track, improving on my strength and endurance and helping me to perform even better than before." 

Syahidah is currently the world's top ranked archer in the compound open women category. As of the latest World Archery rankings this month, she is top of the leaderboard with 230.8 points, 37 points ahead of United Kingdom's Jessica Stretton.

READ: Postponed Tokyo Paralympics schedule unveiled with minor changes

For swimmer Yip Pin Xiu, next year's Paralympics will be her fourth. 

Yip has won three Paralympic gold medals - one in the 50m backstroke S3 event in Beijing in 2008 as well as in the 100m backstroke S2 and the 50m backstroke S2 events. Yip also has one Paralympic silver to her name.

Swimmer Yip Pin Xiu
Swimmer Yip Pin Xiu. (Photo: SDSC)

"This year we had a full calendar planned, all our training camps, all our competitions leading up to the Games. So we would peak at the right time," said Yip, who was nominated for the Sportswoman of the Year award. 

"Now with the lack of competitions, the lack of training camps and all these opportunities - and we don't even know when the next Games will be. And with the circuit breaker which caused training to stop, things were at a standstill."

Her focus now is to return to her fitness levels pre-circuit breaker.

"By the time we get there, hopefully we can start planning for various different competitions ... on the road to Tokyo. But for now what we can do is have local time trials and try to not feel like I'm swimming on the spot."

Returning to the pool after almost two months had felt "very strange", added Yip.

"When I first managed to get back into the water, my mind shut off temporarily in the first second I was in. But after that it was fine – it was like I was back home."

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Source: CNA/mt(mi)

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