SINGAPORE – Maisarah Mohd Hassan is flailing her arms in an uncoordinated sprint down the Kallang Practice Track, her delight evident from the wide smile on the 18-year-old’s face.
The teenager’s unbridled joy is matched only by the proud smile on her mother’s face, as Rosmah Khalid watches her younger daughter from the sidelines.
And Rosmah has every reason to be happy, for Maisarah could hardly walk when she was a child – the right side of her body was limp due to her cerebral palsy condition. But therapy, exercise, and sports proved a game changer for the young girl, who started training in athletics with the Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC) this year.
“The exercise has really helped, she is healthier, fitter…she’s more stable now and can run!” said Rosmah. “Sports also helps her become exposed (to more people) and we want her to be independent.”
Photo: Wee Teck Hian
Like Maisarah, her three athletics programme mates, Janelle Tong, siblings Anggun Kasturi Mohamad Yusof and Mohamad Firman Shah Mohamad Yusof – who are nine, 14 and 11 respectively – have also benefited from playing sports.
Hougang Primary School student Janelle was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was one-and-a-half years old, and her condition causes muscle weakness. At the urging of Janelle’s physiotherapist, her mother Ivine Ong started her on cycling, swimming, and running.
The young athlete is also inspired by the exploits of seniors like swimmer Yip Pin Xiu, who won two gold medals at this year’s Rio Paralympic Games.
“My favourite sport is badminton, and I like learning how to smack the shuttlecock,” she told TODAY. “I watched Theresa Goh and Yip Pin Xiu during the Paralympics and I like them because they have values like perseverance.”
According to SDSC executive director Henry Tan, the council has seen an increase in participation in their programmes and events in the last few years.
In 2013, the National Special Schools Swimming Championships attracted 52 participants, while the 2016 edition saw a jump to 95. Events like the Singapore National Para Games and National Disability League also saw an increase in numbers, from 137 to 228 athletes (2013 to 2016) for the former, while the League experienced a 66 per cent jump for the same period.
Photo: Wee Teck Hian
Tan told TODAY: “After the 2015 APG, we saw more enquiries, and an increased interest, especially in swimming. More younger ones are also coming forward to try sports.”
Teenager Muhd Idzni is one athlete who is hopeful of following in the footsteps of his idols, Yip and Goh.
The 15-year-old, who has cerebral palsy with global development delay and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is one of the strongest athletes on the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore (CPAS) track and field team. Despite taking up wheelchair racing only after undergoing foot surgery in March, Idzni finished first in the 100m wheelchair race and 1kg shot put at the National Para Athletics Championships in July.
“I like running, and I like the feeling of beating other people. After watching Singapore win gold, I want to as well,” said Idzni.
However, Tan said that families of children with disabilities face challenges in trying to get their child to learn and play sports. He added: “Transport is an issue, and if they are intellectually disabled, they may need someone to bring them (to training). We also notice a bigger proportion of lower income group (children) taking up sports.”
Money is an issue that single mother of six, Norrizan Nahar, has had to grapple with. Her two children Kasturi and Firman, who both have low vision, recently started with the SDSC’s athletics programme, but she could not take them to practice last Wednesday due to her financial problems. Norrizan, who has congenital cataract, is unable to work due to her poor vision.
The 35-year-old was happy to hear about the TODAY Enable Fund, a charity fund launched last Friday to nurture the talents of people with disabilities, help them fulfill their aspirations and improve their education, skills and employment prospects.
The fund, which is under the patronage of Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, aims to raise S$500,000 to S$1 million.
“I try my best, but I stay in the west and have to take the bus and train to Kallang and the transport costs money,” said former runner Norrizan.
“But I try my best, I’m not working so I take care of them, and I encourage them to do sports.”ADDITIONAL REPORTING JASON QUAH