Paralympians Theresa Goh and Yip Pin Xiu Break the Mould
By Cheryl Tan
Yip Pin Xiu has been battling muscular dystrophy since she was a little girl. After progressively losing the ability to walk at age 11 and then the ability to kick at 12, her greatest ambition in youth was to demonstrate how disabled athletes can still excel in the sporting world.
Theresa Goh, who was born with spina bifida- a birth defect that involves incomplete development of the spinal cord- is one of the fastest breaststroke specialists among the world’s Paralympian swimmers and is a mentor to Pin Xiu. Both of them hold the Singapore Youth Award (SYA), the highest youth accolade in Singapore.
In this heart-to-heart session with the two tenacious Paralympians, a dive beneath the surface told an inspirational tale.
Who or what gave you motivation to pursue your passion in swimming? Did you face mental setbacks or feel disheartened when you first started swimming competitively?
T: My parents introduced me to swimming when I was about five years old. For them, I think it was just a way to help keep my health up. I really enjoy the feeling of weightlessness when I’m in the water.
When I entered competitive swimming at 12, it all happened really quickly and I think the fact that I was quite successful in the sport helped me to keep going. I didn’t put too much thought into the future. Instead, I focused on a lot of short term goals. They kept me in the present. I didn’t dwell on any unhappiness or setbacks.
What sort of physical and mental challenges did you face while pursuing your passion in competitive swimming?
PX: It is important that you do not let your competitor’s skill affect you; just stay focused and swim to the best of your ability. If you always worry about how good they are, you will always feel insecure.
T: I faced the same challenges other competitive athletes face like common injuries and aches from training. I didn’t have to endure too many mental challenges aside from occasional mental fatigue, though that was quite some time ago- I was experiencing a minor burnout and even came close to quitting. But in the end, I just couldn’t walk away from the sport.
Even as a role model to other athletes, you surely must have people to look up to for inspiration. Could you name somebody you highly admire and respect?
PX: Most of my role models are people I can relate to well. For instance, my previous coach, Uncle Peng Siong and the US figure skater, Michelle Kwan. I look up to them and admire them for their passion, courage, discipline and much more. They uphold the principles that I wish to emulate in my daily life too.
T: I look up to quite a number of people, including my current coach, Jiao Yang, my previous coach Uncle Siong, and my parents. However, if I had to just pick one, I would say I really admire and respect my team mate, Pin Xiu because I have seen the way she’s grown from when she just started swimming to the world champion she is today. The journey that we have shared shows me how much she deserves her successes. I don’t think I could be as strong as she is if I were to stand in her shoes.
Looking back on your past achievements, especially winning the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic games, what was the most memorable experience that made the biggest impact on your life?
PX: There were 2 major experiences that made an impact. The Beijing Paralympics changed my outlook; I realized that nothing is impossible once you put your mind to it.
The second most impactful experience was when I returned to swimming after my two-year break following the Paralympics. I resumed swim training in August 2010 and it was a tough climb for me. My stamina, timing and performance had decreased significantly. It jolted me back to reality, and reminded me how much hard work and discipline I would need to help me focus on my next big goal.
As the face of disability sports in Singapore, what do you hope to inspire in other athletes who see you as their role model?
T: I am very glad to be able to contribute to the disability sports scene in Singapore. I think I was very lucky to have been at the right place at the right time. However, there are many upcoming athletes with disabilities and I can’t wait for them to reveal their full potential. Besides inspiring athletes to work hard to achieve their goals, I hope to inspire other athletes to follow their heart and to always be happy.