Para-sports: Para-athletes get their day at National Stadium

SINGAPORE – Paralympian wheelchair racer William Tan has been doing sports for more than 40 years but on Saturday (March 16), the 62-year-old competed in the new National Stadium for only the third time in his sports career.

While the 47-year-old National Athletics Championships (NAC), organised by Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC), had been held at the old National Stadium before, yesterday marked the first time the annual meet is held at the newer stadium in Kallang, which opened in 2014.

The NAC was held in conjunction with the stadium’s open house.

This year’s event saw 108 para-athletes from nine mainstream and special schools and organisations.

“Being able to compete at the National Stadium is a symbol of being accepted and included because para-athletes are also able to enjoy the facilities here,” said Tan, who has taken part in the NAC 43 times.

“I spent most of my time admiring the setting because this is the kind of track that we can really get good timings on,” added the medical doctor.

Fellow Paralympian wheelchair racer Norsilawati Sa’at said: “We were smiling all the way through the race on the track.”

In previous years, the competition was held at other stadiums. In 2018, the field events were held at Home of Athletics next to the Sports Hub, while the track events took place at the Ministry of Education (Evans) Stadium.

This year, the SDSC introduced a new event, II2 100m event for the intellectually disabled.

Mountbatten Vocational School’s Jason Gan was the only participant in the race, finishing in 20.27sec.

The 20-year-old’s mother, Madam Tham Sin Hui, said: “To me it’s about the experience and exposing Jason to competitions. I hope that he’ll learn what it means to put in his best effort and how to be serious and focused in a competition setting.”

SDSC executive director Kelly Fan hopes to expand the events in future NACs to be more inclusive.

She said: “Hopefully Jason’s participation will inspire others to come forward and participate. SDSC is also looking to include individuals with autism in these competitions as well.”

Also hopeful are Tan and Norsilawati, who stressed the importance of training and competing on good tracks – the National Stadium boasts a world-class Mondo track that is built for fast running. Tan said: “Wheelchair racing is different from running because our wheels are very sensitive to the terrain and the conditions of the track.

“For competition purposes, it’s important for us to have a track like this so that we can have a good timing to qualify for major events.”

The 42-year-old Norsilawati will be aiming to earn her Tokyo 2020 Paralympics ticket in a qualifier in Dubai in November and hopes to be able to train at the National Stadium in preparation for the event.

She said: “I need a very good track so it would be great if the stadium could be opened up for para-athletes. For the other younger athletes, I think it’s good that they get to feel what a world-class stadium is like.”

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