Discovering the Ability within Disability

You can see him on the court five days a week twice a day and self-training on Sundays with complete rest only happening on Saturday. 27-year-old Tay Wei Ming moves with the ease and agility of a well-seasoned shuttler. After all, he has been playing badminton for over than a decade.

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Watching Tay spar is a real treat. I watch with bated breath; my eyes glued to the shuttlecock, watching it fly back and forth between Tay and his opponent. They match in strength, ability and skill but Tay is somewhat sharper in his responses, making him swifter and quicker to swat the shuttlecock over the net. Tay plays as well, if not even better, than many of the able-bodied badminton athletes he trains with. In fact, he plays so well that you don’t even notice his disability until the game is over. It is only then do you realise that Tay’s been playing with his left arm exclusively. His right arm sits dormant against his body as he twists, shifts and moves during the play.

Tay suffers from Erb’s palsy, the paralysis of the arm caused by an injury to the upper group of the arm’s main nerves. These injuries arise most commonly, but not exclusively, from shoulder dystocia during a difficult birth. It is coincidentally, the very cause of Tay’s disability.

“I was a normal, healthy baby like any other babies,” Tay shares with us, over WhatsApp. “It was during the process of my delivery that I kena (read: acquired) the disability.”

Tay has over the years, learnt to deal with the ill-functioning of his right arm and went on to master a sport the best way he knows how: by sparring with able-bodied athletes.

“Badminton is a sport that requires a lot of sparring, so when I spar with able-bodied athletes who are better players, I get to improve.” Tay explains humbly.

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Tay started playing badminton from as young as the age of 10 but it wasn’t until his secondary school decided to employ a full-time coach when Tay flourished as a talented badminton player. “Due to my disability, he (Tay’s coach) implemented a different set of footwork so that I will not have to use my backhand.” That very act of working with Tay’s disability instead of against it, propelled Tay from a beginner badminton player to an intermediate challenger.

Tay has recently secured a sponsorship from Chinese sporting label Li Ning and won an exclusive SPEX (Sports Excellence) Scholarship, which Tay has applied for once before to no avail. The SPEX scholarship includes both financial and programmatic support to prepare athletes for major tournaments – a feat that relieves him greatly.

“I’ve been waiting for this scholarship for a very long time,” he laments. “I am not getting any younger and as the only child, I have to think about supporting my family in the future.”

“There was a period when I doubted if I should continue my passion,” Tay shares of a gloomy time. “My parents were worried and suggested that I get a proper job instead so this scholarship is definitely great news as it allows me to focus on my training, support my family as well as create a portfolio for myself as a purely local, born and bred para badminton athlete in Singapore.”

According to Sport Singapore, there are approximately 1000 athletes but less than 50 have been awarded the SPEX Scholarship, with Tay making up one of the very exclusive 5% benefiting from the scholarship.

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“I hope it also helps to gain awareness and publicity for para badminton and para athletes,” he says brightly. “I hope that the parents of disabled children are able to understand that there is no harm in pushing their children out of their comfort zones. As a disabled person myself, I believe that one of the best ways to fight low self-confidence is for parents to expose their disabled children to experiences and sports from a very young age.”

Today, Tay trains with able-bodied badminton athletes. His main focus at the moment is training for the 8th ASEAN Para Games that is set to take place in Singapore from the 3rd to 9th December where he is expected to wrap the year up with the clink of several medals. Do come down to show Wei Ming and Team Singapore your support this December!

Interview by: Dis.Is.Able

Written by: A Kind Volunteer

Photos by: stefanusian.com

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