“I had a tough childhood, especially during my primary and secondary school years. At the time, awareness about people with disabilities in mainstream schools was lacking. I did have a few friends whom I was really close to, but I was mostly bullied a lot for being different.
I was also never given the chance to do sports, and I felt like I was regarded as less active because of that. Being exempted from physical education, I turned to reading. While it increased my knowledge, all I wanted was to join in the fun and be as active as my peers.
I was born with a condition called cerebral palsy that basically affects my body movement and control. My condition is mild, so I can still move around independently without assistive devices like crutches or a wheelchair, but there’s a limit to how long I can stand or walk.
My mom is the reason why I can walk, jog and swim today. She made me go for physiotherapy regularly since I was four. Exercises were tough and painful, and I was often frustrated as a kid, but she believed physio was important for me to lead an independent life.
Now that I’m older, I would have never imagined that I would be a national athlete. I was only 18 when I first picked up archery, but it was more of a weekend hobby then. I remember trying different para sports at a disability expo I attended, but something about archery just struck me.
I like the feeling I get when the arrows hit the center of the target, and the more I practised archery, the better I got at it. Fun eventually turned into passion, and passion quickly became an obsession to challenge myself and break my limits.
Being the first archer to represent Singapore at the 2016 Paralympics was an honour and a dream come true, but preparations for Rio were rough. My para archery team was without a coach for four months, and no athlete should train and compete under such conditions.
It happened again while prepping for the upcoming ASEAN Para Games (APG), so my family and friends encouraged me to join the able-bodied national team instead. My transition as a para athlete to the able-bodied team was the first to take place in Singapore.
Now that I have a coach who takes on the para and able-bodied teams, training has been intense. I actually wanted to compete at this year’s SEA Games, but the appeal was a no-go. Because of my condition, I sit on a stool when I compete, and that’s deemed an advantage.
It wasn’t meant to be, and I respect the official decision. Now, I’m focusing on APG. My debut at APG 2015 was actually my pro debut in any competition, so winning gold in the individual and mixed events was unexpected. This year, I hope to surpass my personal best.
So please come support me and my fellow para athletes as we get ready for APG 2017 in Kuala Lumpur this September. And if you have a dream like I do, always be brave enough to take that giant leap forward and live your life with no regrets.” – Syahidah Alim, 31
Interview by: Arman Shah