With practiced speed, Theresa Goh wheels herself to the edge of the swimming pool and grabs hold of a stainless steel handrail that is part of a ladder leading into the blue water. In the wink of an eye, she’s swung herself off her wheelchair and into the pool, spearing her way towards the other end of the pool with the grace of a sleek dolphin.
We’re at former national swimmer Ang Peng Siong’s swim school at Farrer Park, filming a video of his protégé for our Young Woman Achiever award ceremony. She’s not training but, when asked to swim a few leisurely laps, she is off like a shot.
She can clock about 1 minute and 34 seconds doing the 100m freestyle—most able-bodied swimmers take two minutes. Her homemaker mum Rose, 48, jokes that she never worries about drowning when Theresa, the eldest of her three children, is around.
Observing her natural grace in the water, it’s obvious why the 19-year-old is so worthy of admiration. Born with spinal bifida, a birth defect that affected her spine and crippled her legs, Theresa overcame her physical disability to become our nation’s top disabled swimmer.
But what truly makes her a heroine is her unflagging determination to succeed. Theresa has done for local disabled athletes what Peng Siong himself did 20 years ago for swimming in Singapore—she gave Singaporeans a face to represent a select group of deserving athletes.
Look beyond her disability and you realise she’s done more for Singapore sports than most able-bodied athletes have at an international level. In 2004, she shot to fame with five personal bests at the Paralympics—more than any other Singaporean did at that Olympics. She clinched a silver at the Visa Paralympic World Cup last year and, at December’s Asean Para Games, she was the most bemedalled Singaporean athlete with three golds.
But she’s just getting started. Peng Siong notes that she’s still not peaked yet. “Imagine what she would be like once 2008 rolls around,” he says of the Beijing Paralympic Games, the Olympics for disabled sportsmen. “We’re all excited.” He hopes she’ll win a medal there, a standard no Singaporean has achieved yet.
Maybe her success has something to do with how comfortable she is in the water. Ask Theresa why she enjoys the sport so much and her answer is simple: “In the water, I can go anywhere.”