43654967_10160768682345198_5987462183338901504_o(Photo by Flona Hakim/SNPC)

By Theresa Goh

"Eh, how can you retire without asking us first?” 

I remember having this conversation with a Grab driver recently and I couldn’t help but to chuckle as I told him that I was too old and needed a new hobby. Was swimming ever a hobby though? As I think back, swimming most definitely felt like a hobby when I was a child, but as I grew older and competed in bigger events, it almost felt as if it was a responsibility that I had to upkeep. 

So, for 20 years, I was committed to this responsibility of mine. There were times when I lost faith in myself and lost the love and passion that I had for swimming, but interestingly, I fell in love with the sport once more right before I decided to retire for good. But why retire now, that I’ve fallen in love with swimming again? Why not wait till next year or the year after?

Hanging up my goggles after competing for 20 years has been one of the biggest and maybe riskiest decisions that I've made in this lifetime (maybe not as risky as ordering way too many donuts the night before one of my competitions), but this decision isn’t one that is filled with regrets. I don’t quite know how to explain this, but it just felt right, that it was time for me to make my exit, to swim my final lap in the competition pool for one last time. 

I remember the exact moment that I decided to retire. It was the day before my birthday in 2019, the year I retired. I was sitting in a hotel lobby in Melbourne, my body aching from the first meet of the competition for that year. As I heaved myself up on my wheelchair to return to my room, I took in a deep breath and looked around me. Somehow, it was then that I knew that it was time for me to quit. 

Making that decision that night made me feel like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. It went from relief to excitement, but as the months went by, my fears, insecurities and uncertainties slowly crept in. 

Who am I now that I’m no longer swimming competitively? It felt like I was a newborn in a world of unfamiliarity. So, what now? Where do I go and what do I do? Do I do anything at all? I decided to take time off to catch up with my friends and loved ones. All this time, I was still wondering if retiring would remove me from the sports community that I was so fond of. Would there be a disconnection? Would I lose touch with the people who were my pillar of strengths when I was swimming?

Thankfully, I started working at Sport Singapore, with great mentors and peers that I look up to. The interactions and people at work ignited my passion to give back to the sports community and I found myself taking up impactful projects that I felt would bring about good changes to the sports scene. This ignited passion also spurred me on to continue my advocacy in the various social causes that I had been supporting for many years. The thought of no longer being as impactful as compared to when I was an active athlete, did cross my mind, but I’d like to believe that the work that I do now is still meaningful and hopefully as impactful. 

That aside, 2020 has most definitely been an interesting year for me. If I could describe it in one sentence, it would be ‘taking a ride on a roller coaster with blindfolds on’. You don’t quite know when the drop is going to take place and so I was on my figurative toes the whole year, at times scared of the unknown, but most times, thrilled that I was making new discoveries about myself and the people/things around me. 

The (2-month long) Circuit Breaker (in 2020) did provide me with ample opportunities as I discovered and experienced new obstacles when places were cordoned off or closed due to the social distancing measures. It makes me wonder if there're disabled people on the panel when it comes to policy-making. Reinforcing my belief that a better world can only come when you include a diversity of voices. That would really make a huge difference for those of us who need certain resources more than the general population. 

With all that said, I am excited for the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the SEA and ASEAN Para Games. My friends who are currently training have adapted the best they can in their training sessions and seem to be on track so I’m excited to see their hard work come into fruition. I’m looking forward to watching the Games as a complete spectator, with my pom-poms, and banners ready. 

To my fellow athletes going through this pandemic, when times look tough, always remember to have your goals in mind; remember why you’re doing this and continue to find the joy in what you’re doing. The pandemic has not been an ideal situation for all of us, but I'm sure that all of you are strong-willed and can persevere through this. Thus, I am excited to see all of you springboard to greater heights and bring the sports scene in Singapore to a whole new level. 

This article was contributed by Theresa Goh. "She is a Paralympic swimmer who retired at the end of 2019. Theresa is a four-time Paralympian, who won her first Games medal (Bronze) in the 100m Breaststroke SB4 category in Rio 2016. Representing Singapore in various international events across 20 years, she's also a former world record holder in the 50m and 200m Breaststroke SB4 category. As a pioneer in the disability sports scene in Singapore, she strongly believes in the importance of seeing the ability in a person, without erasing their disability. She's currently working at Sport Singapore and continues to make a difference whenever she sees fit.


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For more details on the Singapore National Paralympic Council, you can visit their website - http://www.snpc.org.sg