Giving Sports a Second Shot
If I could sum Alvina up in a word, it would be tenacious.
After all, 25-year-old Alvina Neo has been nothing but tenacious when dealing with the setbacks life has dealt her with. Neo was born with spina bifida – a developmental congenital condition that involves the incomplete development of the spinal cord or its coverings.
But Neo powered on with her braces and a forearm crutch. She continued being an active child, with cycling being her favoured sport. However, the older she got, the tougher it was for her to get around. By the time she turned 14, it was nearly impossible for Neo to ride a bike. “I stopped doing everything when i turned 14. I stopped cycling. I completely stopped doing sports,” she laments. Instead, Neo become a frequent visitor of the hospital her medical condition worsened throughout the following three years. With her health faltering and her self esteem plummeting, things appeared bleak for the teenager.
One day, however, things took for a turn when Neo met a medical student during one of her regular hospital visits. “She asked what my hobbies were so I shared with her that I used to enjoy cycling,” Neo explains. “So she asked me if I’ve heard of hand-cycling but I didn’t even know that there are sports that specifically catered to people with disabilities like mine.” “‘Google it,’ she said. And I did. But it took me nearly two years before I decided to do anything about it.” When asked for a reason why it took her two years, Neo pauses and continues, “Back then, I had a lot of issues with self-esteem. Going in and out of the hospital so often had a negative impact on my self-worth,” she shares. In 2010 alone, Neo was scheduled to undergo three major surgeries for her spinal condition. “After my surgeries, I thought, screw this. Enough is enough. After all that I have been through, let’s give hand-cycling a shot.” And that was that. Neo picked up hand-cycling 2011 and she has’t looked back since.
“Hand-cycling gave me the confidence to do many other things I’ve wanted to try but didn’t,” she muses. “I used to be very negative and hard on myself in the past. I would always end up convincing myself that I wouldn’t be able to do anything before I even started. There was always the word ‘cannot’ in front of everything.”
“Of course, I am aware that there are limits to the sports I am able to partake in. For example, contact sports is out of the question. That is the reality. But there’s no stopping me from kayaking, dragon-boating or even climbing a mountain.” Neo has since scaled Mt. Ophir with four other para-athletes and hand-cycled her way through not one but two full 42km Sundown marathons.
She had performed well at the 2014 Asian Para Games held in Incheon, South Korea last year, coming in fourth in the Women’s 16.2 km Individual Time Trials cycling event. Neo also participated in the Women’s 48.6 km Individual Road Race, but was stopped by officials at the 5.5-lap mark after she dislocated her left shoulder in the 4th of 6 laps. But if you thought a dislocated shoulder would stop Neo, think again. Instead of sitting around and missing the 8th ASEAN Para Games set to take place in Singapore next month, Neo took it upon herself to start training for another sport – air pistol.
“Shooting isn’t as easy as it appears to be although it may seem more comfortable as it is held in an air-conditioned room,” she says with a laugh. “My transition from hand-cycling to shooting wasn’t too bad,” she shares. “It was probably easier for me to adapt as I have trained my core, upper back, shoulder, and arm muscles for hand-cycling, which makes it much easier to engage the necessary muscles for shooting.”
While hand-cycling remains her main passion, Neo is making use of her newfound talent in air-shooting to represent Singapore on home ground this ASEAN Para Games, where she hopes to do well enough for her inaugural air-shooting debut to win some medals.
Dis.Is.Able cannot wait to see Alvina perform this December and we do hope you go on down to support her and the rest of Team Singapore!
Interview by: Dis.Is.Able
Article by: A kind volunteer
Pictures by: Alvina Neo