Student with cerebral palsy plays football, even rock-climbs

SINGAPORE - Like most young men his age, 24-year-old Harun Rahamad leads an active life.

He plays football, badminton and even rock-climbs.

The Institute of Technical Education (East) student, however, is no ordinary weekend warrior. He was born with cerebral palsy.

That, however, has not stopped him from pursuing his dream of representing Singapore in a sport.

Mr Harun, who received the Youth Aspiration Award from Education Minister Heng Swee Keat last weekend, will be heading to Malaysia this month as a member of the Singapore Cerebral Palsy Football team, to compete at an international tournament in Kuala Lumpur.

The award from the Society for the Physically Disabled aims to enable outstanding youngsters with physical disabilities to pursue their interests.

It is given to up to two recipients each year and each receives a grant of up to $5,000.

Mr Harun told The Sunday Times that his love for football started when he was 11 years old, after he joined other children at a void deck for a game. But for him, even walking was a challenge then.

He had relied on a walking aid until he was taught how to move on his own two feet by his kindergarten teachers when he was seven. "My kindergarten didn't offer Malay language classes, so during the Mother Tongue classes, my teachers would teach me how to walk without the aid," he said.

Even then, he found it difficult to find his balance. "It took me a year to stabilise myself when I play football, to find a pace that suits me, so I don't trip."

He has, however, never let his condition made him feel inferior, even though as a child, he felt life was unfair because he was different from other kids.

His late grandfather had always taught him to be thankful, and took him to orphanages overseas for volunteer work.

"Seeing what those children lacked, I felt very sad. We should be thankful and contented for what we have," said Mr Harun, who lives with his grandmother in a flat in Tampines. His parents are divorced.

He hopes to further his studies in a polytechnic, specialising in physiotherapy.

Mr Harun, who plays both the left back and right back positions in his team, is not alone is pursuing his dream as a disabled footballer.

The Singapore Cerebral Palsy Football team has 14 other members, and they are led by coach Zainudeen Hassan, 43.

The team was formed in 2009, and is part of the Singapore Disability Sports Council's Learn To Play programme. The programme aims to encourage disabled people to pick up sports.

Ms Stefanie Pitchian, 25, corporate communications executive for the Singapore Disability Sports Council, said that sports is a form of physiotherapy for people with disabilities, and it "adds value" to their lives.

Mr Zainudeen, a full-time football coach, agrees. He said: "I don't feel that these boys are any different. Sports is all-inclusive. Doing well is one thing, giving them the opportunity to come here weekly is more important."

He added that he hopes there is more awareness of sports for disabled people in Singapore.

Likewise, the team hopes to be more recognised.

Said Mr Khairul Anwar, 27, the captain: "We hope that Singaporeans can be more supportive of disabled athletes, whether it is moral or financial support."

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