“When my mom gave birth to me, a complication caused a delay in the delivery process. My head was already out, but because my shoulders were too broad, I was stuck. It was too dangerous to perform a c-section then, so the doctor tried different ways to pull me out.
The doctor tried using a forcep, but that didn’t work. Because the forcep was used, I had to undergo surgery to remove a blood clot, so now I have a visible scar on my head. When vacuum extraction failed too, there was no other choice but to pull me out by my hands.
My nerves got damaged when I was pulled out, and that affected the growth of my right hand, making it smaller than the other. It also affected my sense of touch. If I were to put my right hand on a kettle of boiling water now, it will take a longer time than a normal hand to feel any pain.
Growing up, I was bullied and outcasted a lot because of my hand. Primary school was the worst. Other kids would call me names, and they wouldn’t want to be in the same group for project work. Eventually, I turned to badminton as a distraction from everything.
My father introduced me to badminton when I was 10. We did many different activities together like swimming and cycling, but I pursued badminton because the sport allows me to rely only on one hand, and it had the biggest potential to bring me far as an athlete.
On top of that, it grew my social network of friends. When I was bullied, badminton pulled me out of my gloomy days. My teammates never treated me differently. They admired me for playing despite my disability, and I enjoyed gatherings and dinner with them after training.
My journey as a national athlete started in 2008 when the then Singapore Sports Council for the Disabled spotted me competing at the National Disability League. I was always representing my various schools throughout my academic years, but when I was asked to represent the nation, I said yes.
Right now, I can focus on my training and not worry too much about money as I’m under a spexScholarship. It pays top-tier athletes to train full-time, but at the back of my mind, I do think about what would happen if they don’t extend my scholarship.
There is pressure to perform well in competitions because I need to justify why I still qualify for the scholarship, but three years into the programme, I’ve become more mature mentally. Instead of thinking about KPI, I enjoy my hard training and let things run their natural course.
I just came back from a two-week training camp in Penang actually. I trained about six hours a day, seven days a week, and my body was screaming for recovery everyday. But I’d still go back. The coach was really inspiring, and in him, I’ve finally found someone whom I can look up to as a role model.
It’s really heartwarming to see the support I’ve been getting on home ground too. Para athletes train really hard to breakthrough our limits, and I want the people in Singapore to know that I will definitely do my best at the upcoming Para Games.” – Tay Wei Ming, 29
Interview by: Arman Shah