Leaving a Legacy Interview with APG 2015 Chef de Mission Raja Singh

Raja Singh with Ministers

TSL speaks to the CDM of the upcoming 8th  ASEAN Para Games about his background, the community’s reaction to date for the upcoming event and his wishes for the legacy effect of the Para Games on Singapore.

TSL: Tell us a little about yourself and your background. 

I have always loved sports, more than anything else.  Even way back in school, I preferred running around instead of sitting in a classroom.  So naturally, when I grew up, I joined the army and became a Commando. Unlike regular athletes, most of us are accidental sportsmen.  For me, I can still remember how it happened during my preparation for a triathlon event.  It was late morning along Changi Coast Road.  I was cycling 50km into a 60km route, already on my last legs, but continued to push myself hard.  Then it happened.  I didn’t notice a stationary lorry ahead and slammed straight into it.  

I regained my senses on the floor, and soon realized that I couldn’t move my legs.  I tried punching them, pinching them, but I didn’t feel anything but I had hope to participate in the coming triathlon and thought it was temporary loss of sensation on my legs. 

But that was not the case till the doctor told me that I would not walk again and be prepared to live life on a wheelchair. Your whole life comes crashing down when you become paralysed at 22.  I became angry, depressed, and could not accept the truth.   But through those dark times, my friends and family were always there for me to give me hope and support. Then I accepted myself and plan what best I can do to live a meaningful life.

At the hospital I was introduced to wheelchair sports by the therapist, nurses and ex-patient.  I tried basketball, swimming and track and field events. Obviously as a runner, I chose wheelchair track and marathon events.  I remember my first international competition as a wheelchair racer in 1986 at the FESPIC games.  I didn’t win a gold medal but I won a silver and a bronze; and the best part was I learned how competitive it can be even though one was on a wheelchair which is something I hadn’t felt in years.  I felt like I could compete again and started to believe in all my hopes and dreams again through sports. That was the beginning to wheelchair sports.

There wasn’t a worst moment in my life doing sports but losing at a finish line twice in two marathons was painful and I kept thinking about my defeat. Being a fighter, I trained even harder and this time I was glad to run my own race at the Oita Marathon and also set a course record. In the same year I won four gold medals at the FESPIC games. In recognition SNOC gave me a merit award (pool for selection inclusive of able bodied athletes) for my achievement. I also won most of the local marathons in Singapore from 1988 to 1993 and represented Singapore in 2 Paralympic Games and those were all my high moments. It is my desire, passion for sports and belief in myself that has brought me to this height.

I have been a Para Athlete for more than 30 years and I can never imagine not being one because it has given me everything for living a meaningful life in the same platform as the abled and I have nothing to complain. I am contented!

TSL: Many Singaporeans are sports fans. Are there any other sports that you do/follow and how do you stay fit? 

I follow English League football and I support Liverpool. I am also a fan of Barcelona football team.  Rugby is another sport that I closely watch and I enjoy seeing the tackles and the team spirit that keeps me at the edge while watching. I also love to watch other contact sports.  I am a hand cyclist to stay fit and to compete. I am still considering whether to have a go at the next APG as an athlete. 

Raja at the APG Flag Ceremony

Raja at the APG 2015 Flag Ceremony

TSL: As the CDM for Team Singapore for the 2015 APG – what responsibilities does it entail and how does it shape the identity of the contingent. 

As a CDM, I have to look after the well-being of the athletes and officials of the Singapore contingent. As a host country for the APG, I need to have an in-depth knowledge of the games so as to assist the other ASEAN countries as and when necessary. 

I have to make sure that Athlete’s responsibility is to train and compete at the games with a winning mentality and they should not worry on all the other details.
I have to raise their standards by few notches up and encourage them to speak and execute like elite athletes; and that only can come through their commitment in training to par as the SEA Games athletes.
The athletes’ priorities must not change during the games and they must remain focused to achieve their goals till the end with best practices. 
Ou aim is to achieve medals in as many sports as possible; and the overall medal tally should not be less than our target and must be higher than all the previous Para Games.

TSL: Are there any particular areas of attention for TS as a CDM that you focused on, especially given many of the athletes are debutantes? 

Firstly all debutant athletes should give their 100% commitments to training to develop their skill and fitness and stay motivated to perform better each time they attend the training.  Once that is attained then they can focus on strategy and mentally preparing for the competition. Do not worry about the other areas of work, just stay positive and focus on their goals. This is something that I am trying to inculcate in them to push them up to be an all-around athletes. 

TSL: Who has SDSC been engaging with to help the contingent prepare for the APG and how has it been going? How have the athletes prepared from a mental and physical perspective for the APG? 

All the stakeholders from the Singapore Sports Institute are involved to support our athletes starting from the specialised trained people in physiology, psychology, medical care, nutrition and video analysis. It will be hard for all debutants to understand all the little details of what it takes to be an elite athlete but I am sure the senior athletes will benefit a lot more and in fact on the ground we are getting good feedback with such support.

TSL: The SSI Athlete Services Centre with partners facilitated a Team Singapore camp for the athletes. How important is team culture and understanding the role that an athlete has in inspiring the community for the APG?

All athletes speaking at the same level as an elite athlete will give a clear understanding to the community that we are demonstrating sports at the highest level and do not want sympathy for people with disability playing sports. So this workshop not only provide the athletes with strong understanding about what it takes to be an elite athlete but also enable them to share with the community the right messages. 

Raja at TS Camp

Raja at the ASEAN Para Games Team Singapore Camp

TSL: How has the community reacted to the APG build up activities and what stands out in your mind in particular?

With the road shows and media publicity, more people are aware of the APG and disability sports. The community should not empathise with disability sports by looking at individuals but it should be recognised as talent demonstrated at the highest level by this extra ordinary people in the name of sports. The community needs to know that sports is a drill that has to be repeated millions of times to achieve and participate at elite level.

TSL: Lastly, what are your personal aspirations for Singapore for sports and as a Nation and what do you hope to see as the “legacy effect” for the APG?

I hope through this 8th Asean Para Games we can create better awareness about disability sports among Singaporeans; and to garner more support to bring disability sports to another level. Also: 

• Increase the participation numbers in disability sports at both competitive and leisure levels  
• Encourage every disable organisation and school to integrate sports as part of their programmes and it must have growth with better pathway for elite level participation at international games.
• Every hospital to include sports as part of advance rehabilitation.
• Include of more training venues and facilities.
• Collaborate with NSAs to have more competitive events organised locally by clubs, schools and organisations.
• Organise international sporting events in Singapore for the entire nation to talk more about disability sports.
• To include sports like fencing, tennis, wheelchair rugby to its edition. 

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