Rousing send-off for S'pore athletes

Rousing send-off for S'pore athletes
Ms Koh Kai Hui (in wheelchair), from Boccia, boarding the train at Stadium MRT on Nov 30 2015.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Like a scene from a movie, they gathered with luggage by their side and gave out hugs. Only, they were not at the airport, but rather, assembled outside Stadium MRT Station, about to make their way to the Games Village at Marina Bay Sands (MBS).

The 247-strong Team Singapore contingent, comprising athletes and officials, said goodbye to loved ones as they checked into the Games Village ahead of the opening of the ASEAN Para Games (APG) on Thursday.

It was an emotional but powerful send-off as 17-year-old Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) student Toh Wei Soong, a swimmer, said: "With everyone coming here as one contingent, you really get a sense of unity when you see everyone here and you just want to do well."

Travelling by both chartered buses and public trains, the athletes were divided according to their sports. Boccia, cerebral palsy football, chess and goalball took the train down to MBS, while the remainder travelled by bus.

The three-stop journey took less than 10 minutes and it appeared seamless. The only problem was the lift, which could only take a maximum of three wheelchairs, resulting in a queue.

The line however, dissipated within five minutes and 26-year-old accountant and boccia player Lim Kay Choong said: "The train is very convenient because when you take the bus, you have to go up and down the bus and you also have to carry the wheelchair."

Volunteers were also stationed at the MRT platforms to help direct athletes to their various sporting venues, resulting in less confusion.

And as the athletes move into the Games Village, where they will be housed for the next nine days, the energy around them is palpable.

Said sailor Ng Xiu Zhen, a 31-year-old trainee at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore: "I am really excited. I can't wait for the Games to begin as I have been training really hard for the APG."

Table-tennis debutant Harrison Gan, a 23-year-old first-year finance student at SIM, added: "It is held in Singapore and I am all hyped up. I know that Singaporeans will come down and support us so we will do our best for the Games."

He, however, stopped short of making any medal predictions: "This is my first APG. I know that opponents in my class (Class 10 for those who compete standing with minimal disability) are professional athletes, so I'm just coming into the Games with an open mindset."

That is exactly the kind of mindset that Dr Teo-Koh Sock Miang, president of the Singapore National Paralympic Council (SNPC), wants.

She said on the sidelines of the send-off ceremony: "The No. 1 priority is for all of our athletes to do their personal best. That is the most important.

"At the end of the day, we just want the athletes to overcome the odds against them."

Beyond the Games, she hopes that the event will be a platform to draw new blood into para-sports.

"With all the public awareness created with this APG, I'm hoping it will bring out as many people with disability as possible, to take up sports or other recreational activities. Whether they choose to compete or not, at the end of the day, I think it is more for a better quality of life."

This article was first published on December 1, 2015.
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