Suhairi's leap meets Rio mark

Since a young age, Suhairi Suhani had been told that he was different - and not necessarily in a good way.

As he struggled to keep up with his peers in primary school, his family was advised to enrol him in a special-needs institution.

Yesterday, at the ASEAN Para Games (APG), the 18-year-old Singaporean proved he was indeed different - in spectacular fashion.

Barely a year after his first competitive leap, he hit the sand in a personal-best mark of 6.66m for silver in the men's long jump F20 final.

Just one centimetre separated him from Fadli Amirullah, forcing the Indonesian to settle for bronze.

Gold went to Malaysia's world champion Abdul Latif Romly, in a new Asian record of 7.43m.

He will likely be joined at next year's Rio de Janeiro Paralympics by Suhairi, whose latest effort met the qualifying mark but awaits International Paralympic Committee certification.

The Delta Senior School student - who came in fifth at last year's APG in Myanmar - will become the first Singaporean long jumper to vie for honours at the quadrennial Paralympics.

"It is just amazing to get a medal in front of my mother, who has been there for me all the way - looking after my diet and pushing me to keep going strong despite what others say," the beaming teenager said yesterday.

"I achieved my goal of stepping on the podium for her."

It was his mother Subahariah who would not let him be segregated in the sporting arena, even though he was diagnosed with intellectual disability, brought about by high fever and fits at the age of one.

When Suhairi was nine, she encouraged him to compete in a 5.6km cross-country run without any previous training.

A love for track and field was born. According to his coach C. Veeramani, Suhairi is obsessed with honing his craft.

The duo spend hours analysing videos of his approach, take off, movement in the air and landing.

Former national sprinter Mohamed Hosni, who is the youngster's running coach, described his charge as the "most dedicated local athlete I have ever met".

He explained: "Rain or shine, Suhairi is at least 45 minutes early for every training session.

"He is so eager to learn and correct his mistakes.

"Despite what doctors have told him, he is a fast learner."

With his place in Rio all but booked, Suhairi aims to continue proving people wrong.

He said: "The ASEAN Para Games is just the beginning. I want to jump further and run faster.

"I want to prove I'm not normal but, rather, special."

This article was first published on December 9, 2015.
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