10 S'poreans who beat their physical disabilities

The London Paralympics came to a close two Sundays ago, and Singaporean athletes were particularly impressive at this year's Games.

Laurentia Tan emerged as the only Asian to win medals in the para-equestrian events, while Yip Pin Xiu made it into two swimming finals.

It was amazing to see blind footballers playing much better than normal men, and runners with prosthetic legs surging round the track at unbelievable speeds.

The 4,000-odd Paralympic athletes have proven that they are not really disabled at all, and that disability is merely a physical obstacle that can be overcome.

Here are 10 disabled Singaporeans who have also overcome the odds to excel in their own unique way:

1. Judy Wee, 51
Assistant manager at the Muscular Dystrophy Association and vice-president of the Disabled People's Association

Ms Wee was born with deformities in her four limbs, which she believes may have resulted from her mother taking the drug thalidomide during pregnancy.

But that did not hold her back. She began swimming from a young age, and realised that she had a passion for it when she reached her 20s.

"On land, you have lots of obstacles," she said. "But once you're in the water, you're really free."

She has since competed in events such as the Far East South Pacific Games for the Disabled and the Malaysian Paralympic Games.

2. Desmond Ho, 36
Partner at Allen & Gledhill

After entering the Gifted Education Programme and studying at Raffles Institution and Raffles Junior College, he was accepted to read law at Cambridge University.

After graduating, he joined law firm Allen & Gledhill as a pupil in 1999, before being called to the Bar the following year.

He is now a partner at the firm and specialises in commercial litigation and dispute resolution, as well as corporate restructuring and insolvency.

3. Lim Koon Heng, 46
IT-support assistant at the Society for the Physically Disabled

Mr Lim was left paraplegic following a motorcycle accident in 1989. For 10 years, he was confined to his parents' home in Pasir Ris.

"I couldn't accept my disability," he recalled of the initial three years of his disability. "I didn't know how to manage as a disabled person. During those three years, I was totally preoccupied with what I couldn't do."

However, salvation came when he saw an advertisement for a computer. He bought his first computer in 1993. Slowly, he discovered that he was not as helpless as he had thought. From 2003 to 2007, he was trained in Web design at the Society for the Physically Disabled, and has been an IT-support assistant there since 2007.

4. Yeo Sze Ling, 35
Research scientist at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research

Despite losing her sight to glaucoma at the age of four, Dr Yeo was still able to maintain an excellent academic record. Her passion for mathematics drove her to pursue the subject all the way up to the doctorate level, despite the added challenge of requiring materials and having to transcribe lectures in Braille.

In June, she was awarded the prestigious Singapore Youth Award for her achievements as a research scientist and for her volunteer work at the Society for the Physically Disabled.

5. Abdul Alim, 38
Logistics clerk

Despite losing his right leg when a lorry crashed into his motorcycle at a traffic junction 10 years ago, Mr Alim leads an active lifestyle.

With a special prosthetic leg, he was able to run in a triathlon (200m swim, 10km cycle, 2.4km run) last month. 

6. Jovin Tan, 25
Sailor

Mr Tan, who suffers from cerebral palsy, picked up sailing at the age of 15.

He represented Singapore at the Paralympics in 2004, 2008 and this year. He was awarded the Singapore Youth Award in June.

"I was born with this disability, and there is nothing I can do to change it," he told my paper in June. "But I want to do something meaningful with my life."

7. Shariff Abdullah, 43
Motivational speaker

Despite being born without a left leg, Mr Shariff managed to complete both the gruelling Sundown ultramarathon last year and the Men's Health Urbanathlon in February.

His mantra: "Nothing is impossible, impossible is nothing."

He hopes to inspire others to challenge themselves.

8. Charmaine Tan, 17
Student and author

Charmaine began to lose her sight due to Retinitis pigmentosa at the age of two, and her kidneys failed when she was 13.

Last April, her vision deteriorated to just 5 per cent of normal vision. Still, she has won scholarships and had her writing published.

She hopes to become a literature teacher.

9. Laurentia Tan, 33
Para-equestrian

Cerebral palsy failed to stop Ms Tan from becoming the most bemedalled Singaporean Paralympian - she won a silver (individual freestyle test) and a bronze (individual test) at the recent London Paralympics.

This brings the total number of medals she has won to four, as she won two bronze medals in the same events at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

10. Shen Sihui, 26
Student

Ms Shen was left wheelchair-bound by Transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder caused by inflammation of the spinal cord, on her 21st birthday.

She was bedridden for weeks, but still managed to graduate with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from Nanyang Technological University in July.


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