Michelle Yogeswari's first attempt at running 400m was nearly her last. But for a girl who has an intellectual disability called Global Developmental Delay, which causes learning and speech impediments, the word quit is happily absent from her vocabulary.
The 100m and 200m sprints (T/F20 category, for those with intellectual impairment) are her pet events but both were dropped from next month's ASEAN Para Games (APG) because of insufficient entries.
The decision was made in June, but instead of moping, the 18-year-old decided to switch to the longer event. She said: "The first time I did the 400m, I ran all out and, after it, I told myself, 'I don't want to do this again.'"
Nevertheless, she stuck at it, a trait that did not surprise her coach, former national sprinter Muhammad Hosni.
He said: "She was quite apprehensive at first... But she took it with a brave heart and was willing to train for it.
"That's what I like about her, she gives it her all."'
The Delta Senior School student shows a similar resolve in the classroom. She said: "A Primary 6 question is the kind of work we do in school. They go really slowly for us... and if they teach us longer words, I can't even pronounce it.
"I have to go home and study it before I get it, and I can take up to one or two weeks to figure it out.
"When I learn a new word that is difficult for me, I will use Siri and speak the word into my iPhone.
"(If I don't pronounce the word correctly), Siri will not be able to understand it, so I will ask my mum for help before going back to Siri, and I will keep trying and trying until Siri gets me."
However, on the track, she is anything but hesitant.
She was 13 when she entered her first 100m race - at a meet organised by the Singapore Disability Sports Council - and won it.
"I really liked running after the competition so I took it up," said Michelle, who won the 100m and 200m events at the Special Olympics in Los Angeles this year.
She also set a personal best of 14.31 seconds in the century sprint, an improvement of more than a second from a year ago.
Running has brought more than just medals.
It also gave a shy teenager the confidence "to stand in front of people and speak".
Missing out on a medal at the 2014 APG in Myanmar - she finished sixth in both the 100m and 200m - has only strengthened her determination to finish on the podium at the National Stadium.
Her training regimen has been adapted to increase endurance and strength rather than the explosiveness necessary in sprinting.
As part of pyramid training, she runs 100m four times, 200m twice, 300m three times and 400m once with three- to eight-minute rest breaks in between, depending on the training targets for that day, before she reverses the order.
Hosni said: "Through this, it will increase her lactic acid threshold... which will improve oxygen utilisation and oxygen delivery."
Besides her thrice-weekly training sessions, Michelle also puts in extra work at home.
She squeezes in push-ups during study breaks and does core workouts at night before she sleeps.
It is this dedication that she hopes to inspire in others, hopefully as an athletics coach for disabled kids in the future.
"When I see the way coach (Hosni) trains us, he is very outgoing and patient... and I want to be able to do the same and give back," Michelle said.
Her first lesson to those kids will probably be that giving up is never an option.
This article was first published on Nov 25, 2015.
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