“I was born normal, but when I was five, my mom started to notice that I was walking with a limp. We went to see a specialist and discovered some bow-leggedness. I had to undergo surgery when I was in primary four to stop my knees from growing outwards.
Because of my stature, people have laughed and asked, ‘Why is this girl so short?’ Some also stare and make cynical comments when I’m on the priority seat in the train. They don’t understand that I get tired easily because of my knee condition, so I can’t stand too long.
There were moments during my teenage years where I did question why I was different. You want to be ‘normal’ and fit in when you’re in secondary school, so you question why you remain the same while your friends grow taller.
I began to accept my condition as I grew older. It helped that my friends and teachers were very supportive in secondary school, so I was always doing regular activities other students were doing. My only restrictions were contact sports and running.
That supportive environment really helped in shaping my confidence to pursue sports. I eventually picked up archery in poly, and I was also very active in dragonboat at Nanyang Technological University. Powerlifting was introduced to me in 2015.
Singapore was hosting the ASEAN Para Games back then, and Kalai Vanen, a bronze medalist and para athlete from the male powerlifting team, asked me to try out. I had to say no as the competition clashed with my final-year exams.
In July this year, Kalai called me again and asked me to attend the trials for the national team. Since I had already graduated, I went down and went for the try-outs just for fun, but things escalated very quickly from there.
I received a call the following Monday and was told I’ll be going to Kuala Lumpur to compete at the 2017 ASEAN Para Games. I was shocked! Before the whole situation exploded, I immediately told my mother and manager. I had just started work, but luckily, they were very supportive.
I guess I didn’t reject the offer to compete because I wanted to fill up a void in me. Going to work after 18 years of schooling, I felt this emptiness because I suddenly didn’t have any sports to do on the side. The intensity of the training motivated me to compete.
I also wanted to prove that people with disability can achieve a lot in life. When people look at me, they don’t believe I powerlift, but with the support of my coaches and teammates, I can do it. You have to take that leap of faith and just do it.” – Aini, 25
Interview by: Arman Shah