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Valuable life lessons I have gained as a para-athlete

Winning is great. Having a Gold medal after a tournament is awesome. But the true essence of sports is summed up by this word.


As a businessman, I find the core of what I do is in mindset transformation –prescribing strategies for professionals and individuals to achieve career and business success. As a national athlete in the sport of wheelchair table tennis, I find that the key to sporting success is also our mindset.

I find that a right mindset is fundamental for us to achieve our fulfilment in life. I started training for this competitive sport back in 2011 as a way of showing to myself that life after my stroke can be rewarding and my life can still continue to expand. In time, this sport showed me three valuable life lessons I have gained as a para-athlete.


In my journey as a para-athlete, I have seen many athletes with various limitations in their physical abilities. Yet many of them are still able to pursue sporting excellence at the highest level competitively.

I am sure many of you are familiar with our very own Yip Pin Xiu who is a three-time Paralympic gold medallist backstroke swimming. She tells us that despite her muscular dystrophy, “… that as long as you set your mind on something, regardless of your circumstances, you can find opportunities along the way and you can reach your goal.”

Her condition means that she faces progressive weakening and wasting of the muscles which is the reason why she moved from a classification S4 (better body control) to S2 (poorer body control). Yet, this did not deter her from getting two gold medals for Singapore in the recent Paralympics at Rio 2016.

Pin Xiu was able to adapt despite the progressive nature of the condition and it is this adaptability that enables her to emerge tops continually.

With adaptability, three traits are required and they are positivity, acceptance and confidence.

Positivity: The late Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s book The Power of Positive Thinking has sold well for more than 40 years because it contains such a universal truth. A positive attitude leads to positive events in your life.

Acceptance: Choose not to judge what happens to us. Instead, believe that everything happens for a reason and that better things will always follow. That is the beginning of true acceptance.

Confidence: Confident people believe in winning. Confident people believe in success. More importantly, confident people believe in their ability to win and succeed in life.


In my minibook, The Art of Determination, I wrote these words which I still believe is true.

“Determination is one of the greatest assets one can ever possess. It is the tool we use to prevent a temporary failure from becoming a permanent defeat. It is also the tool we use to feed our faith and starve our doubts.

Not only that, determination helps build strong character. It makes us more committed to the cause that we believe in.

The Latin word for determination is “termination” which is defined as the “setting of boundaries”.

Putting this in context, determination is fundamentally about how much we are willing to stretch and reach for our dreams, achieve our goals and ultimately, be the person we have envisioned ourselves to be.

Heather Dorniden was favoured to win the gold medal in the 600m sprint in 2008 at the track and field games of University of Minnesota. When she tripped and fell flat during the midpoint of the race, there was an audible gasp throughout the stadium. But her strong determination to finish the race became the defining moment of the game.

If we study her story or the story of any other determined person for that matter; we will discover that determined people are more concerned about who they are as a person (‘be’) than how much they achieve (‘do’) in life.

During one of her interviews after the race, Heather revealed that during the race, she actually did not realize she fell. She simply felt that she had tripped and what she had to do was to keep on running.

This showed her mental strength, which was key to her winning the gold medal despite falling. Determination, therefore, has the ability to bring out the best in all of us. It gives us the will to win in spite of life’s limitations and challenges”


Abraham Lincoln once said, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” I find that having the right perspectives is crucial for success in life.

As a para-athlete there are many things that I can lament or complain about. That I was never a table tennis player. That I was never athletic in nature. That my body tenses up so badly when game play gets too intense and making it difficult for muscle control. That my stroke caused me to loss my right visual field and hence I am unable to see half of the playing field when I play the game.

But excuses are but excuses.

The fact is I am still able. That I am now a table tennis player. That I am now a national para-athlete. That my body can still move despite the muscles tensing up so badly when game play gets too intense and making it difficult for muscle control. That I can still see over my left visual field despite my stroke causing me to loss my right visual field and hence I am unable to see half of the playing field when I play the game.

As a para-athlete, these lessons of adaptability, determination and perspectives continually remind me that truly, changing our lenses cause changes in our lives!