Singapore’s paralympian Theresa Goh is only 35, yet she has broken many firsts in her life.
She was not only the first female Singapore para swimmer to compete at the Paralympics, she is now the first Paralympian to be elected into the Singapore National Olympic Council Athlete’s Commission (SNOC-AC) for the term 2022 to 2025.
Founded in 1947 as the Singapore Olympic and Sports Council and renamed in 1970, the SNOC is the National Olympic Committee and National Paralympic Committee for Singapore.
The SNOC, headed by an MP of the Marine Parade GRC and Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, is responsible for supporting, entering and overseeing Team Singapore for the Olympic Games, Youth Olympic Games, Winter Olympic Games, Winter Youth Olympic Games, SEA Games, Asia Games, Asian Youth Games and the Commonwealth Games.
Speaking to TheHomeGround Asia, Goh says, “I was surprised to hear the news but I’m really honoured to be the first para athlete to be voted into the SNOC AC. I hope to use my 20 years of experience in swimming to contribute to the betterment of sport in Singapore.”
The first female athlete from Singapore in swimming at the Paralympic Games
Born with congenital spina bifida, Goh is paralysed from the waist down, but she did not let her handicap stop her from achieving her dreams. She has taken part in a myriad of sports – more than an average able-bodied person would do in a lifetime.
“I tried loads of sports even though I entered competitive swimming when I was 12. I played wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis, sailing, wheelchair racing, even horse-riding, amongst others,” she told AsiaOne in 2014.
Despite picking up so many sports at a young age, Goh decided to stick to swimming and went on to have much success with it. Regarding her disabilities, she told Mind Your Body, a health magazine by The Straits Times in 2008, “I’m fine with it. I [wouldn’t] be swimming or where I am today if I weren’t disabled.”
Her love for swimming started when she was five, while wading in the pool with her parents and her passion grew from there. It was at the age of 12 and at the urging of a volunteer from the Singapore Disability Sports Council SDSC that she began to train and compete.
Two years later, at 14, she swept the competition at the inaugural ASEAN Para Games with six gold medals and two silver medals.
In 2003, at the 2nd ASEAN ParaGames in Hanoi, Goh gained three golds, breaking three games records at the same time and was named Sportsgirl of the Year in 2002 and 2003.
She made history when she took part in the Athens Paralympics in 2004 and two years later, she became Singapore’s first swimming world champion when she won the 200m individual medley (SM5) at the International Paralympic Committee World Championships in Durban, South Africa.
Goh was the flag bearer for Team Singapore at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing and competed in the 50 metres, 100 metres and 200 metres freestyle, and in the 100 metres breaststroke, Unfortunately she did not bring home any medals and this became a pivotal moment in her sporting career.
After the Beijing Paralympics, Goh took a break from competitive swimming and took up powerlifting. But after nine months, she came to a crossroads and decided she wanted to get back in the pool and made a conscious decision to enjoy it. “When I went back to training, I took the time to really enjoy the water and when I wanted to get out of the pool, I got out,” she said.
In the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio, Goh took the bronze in the SB4 100m breaststroke final, with a time of 1 minute and 55.55 seconds. It was her first medal since her Paralympic debut in 2004. While qualifying for the finals, she set a new Asian record in the heats at 1 minute and 54.50 seconds.
Goh was one of three people given the Youth Inspiration Award at the Stars of SHINE Award 2008 organised by the National Youth Council (NYC) and then Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) to recognise outstanding young people who have overcome personal difficulties and contributed to the community. She also received a special award at the SDSC’s Sports Superstar Awards 2007 for outstanding achievements in swimming. That same year, Goh was conferred the Pingat Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Medal) at the National Day Awards. She was also awarded the Bintang Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Star) at the 2016 National Day Awards.
Coming to shore to inspire the next generation
In 2019, Goh hung up her goggles and announced her retirement from competitive swimming.
In September she wrote on her Facebook page that “it’s time”, while thanking national bodies Sport Singapore and Singapore Disability Sports Council, her loved ones and sponsors for their support.
She wrote: “Goodbyes are hard y’all, but it’s time and I’m ready. 20 years of blood, sweat and tears have now come to an end. Was it worth it? Every single drop.”
Today, Goh works as a Pathway and Performance Executive of SDSC.
“I believe my expertise and experience as a former athlete for over 20 years participating in high performance para sport will provide an encompassing view and benefit Singapore sport. I aim to fill the gap in providing the opinions and views of para athletes to bring new synergy to how athletes with and without disabilities can work together in Singapore sport, to build our Force for Good, and deliver shared successes in sport,” she says.
The other nine members elected to the SNOC-AC 2022 to 2025 are:
(1) Ms Constance Lien, JiuJitsu
(2) Ms Dipna Lim Prasad, Athletics
(3) Mr Jonathan Chan Fan Keng, Diving
(4) Mr Kampton Kam, Athletics
(5) Ms Martina Lindsay Veloso, Shooting
(6) Mr Muhamad Ridhwan Bin Ahmad, Boxing
(7) Ms Shayna Ng Lin Zhi, Bowling
(8) Ms Stephenie Chen Jiexian, Canoe
(9) Mr Terry Tay Wei An, Gymnastics