SINGAPORE: "There can be miracles..." sings Swimmer Yip Pin Xiu in the midst of a breakfast interview.
It was her candid response, not to a question as to the talent the witty 20—year—old may have outside the swimming pool, but whether she’s confident of garnering another gold medal at the upcoming London 2012 Paralympics.
The athlete first made waves at the Beijing 2008 Games when she clocked a new world and Paralympic record time of 57.92 seconds during the heats of the 50m backstroke for S3, one of the categories of disabilities —— which includes muscular dystrophy —— in the Paralympics.
The swimmer later won Singapore its first gold medal in the sport with a time of 58.72 seconds.
Pin Xiu isn’t counting on getting any medal in the event which first propelled her to global fame, since host country London won’t be featuring the event.
Still, she’s looking on the bright side on her medal hopes to the women’s 50m freestyle event where she came in second during the 2008 Paralympics.
"There are a few new athletes this time round," says Pin Xiu. "And they’re fast —— their [freestyle] time is about 48 seconds, and I’m about one minute slower than they are!"
"I’m thinking positive. I try not to worry about my competitors because it’s unnecessary, and beyond my control, says Singapore’s Paralympic Golden Girl —— who recently graduated from Republic Polytechnic (RP).
What’s within Pin Xiu’s control, is her daily training, which comprises a mix of gym work and pool sessions from Sunday to Friday and horse—riding sessions to beef up her core strength, each Saturday.
"My Paralympic goals this year are realistic —— I aim to do my best, get into the finals and achieve good timing for my events," says Pin Xiu, who adds that she’s about four seconds away from achieving her personal—best time in freestyle.
Going against the tide
Pin Xiu suffers from muscular dystrophy, a muscle degenerating condition which was diagnosed at the age of two, after her parents discovered she couldn’t flex her ankles.
As Pin Xiu grew older, her mobility started deteriorating. Her social acceptance among peers also went downhill.
"When I was in primary school, I was bullied because I was different from the rest of my classmates. This caused me to be very diffident and led to me being introverted," reveals the now confident and witty young lady.
By age 13, Pin Xiu lost the ability to walk and became wheelchair—bound.
"But I was happy because with my set of wheels, I was finally able to catch up with the rest of my friends."
As it turned out, Pin Xiu wasn’t doing the catching up just on land alone —— she was able to catch up and even outpace her able—bodied peers in the water.
In early 2004, when Pin Xiu was 12 years old, sports volunteer Danny Ong spotted her talent in swimming.
She was entered the National Junior Championships a few months later, emerging with gold medals in all the six events she took part in.
"After that, I started training with the elite team and that was when I found friends and felt accepted for the first time. Eventually, I gained more confidence, and started opening up," says Pin Xiu.
Achievements beyond the pool
Swimming has allowed Pin Xiu to find freedom and self—confidence, and not just as a result from the string of medals and award she’s collected since 2005, including Sports Girl of the Year, Singapore Youth Award as well as the 2011 Junior Chamber International’s 10 Outstanding Young Persons of the World (Personal Improvement and/or Accomplishment category) award.
"After Beijing 2008, I took a one—and—a—half—year break because I wanted to focus on achieving results in another part of my life," says Pin Xiu, who started her Diploma in Sports and Exercise Sciences course in Republic Polytechnic.
During her study break, Pin Xiu reduced her swim training from 11 times a week to thrice weekly.
Although that meant paying less attention to improving her swim time, she found it a worthy trade—off.
Pin Xiu graduated with merit in early 2012, and was picked to be her school’s back—up valedictorian. She is now studying Social Sciences at the Singapore Management University.
For now, the swimmer has bookmarked that important chapter of her life, to focus on London.
"Nothing’s changed much after the 2008 Games, except I’m skinnier now," Pin Xiu quips playfully.
Changing gears into serious mode, she adds: "One thing that I’ve learnt from the 2008 Games which I’ll apply in London 2012, is visualisation skills. Mental preparedness is very important because it helps me visualise my performance."
Though Pin Xiu says she’s uncertain how London 2012 will play out for her, one thing’s for sure — whatever the challenge, from childhood bullying to a muscle—degenerating condition — she will always emerge a winner.