At the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, Theresa Goh narrowly missed out on a medal and it became a pivotal moment in her career. The Singaporean swimmer talks about this moment and what happened next in the first episode of our new podcast series, the Future of Work, Now.
Speaking with host Asha Popatlal, Theresa said, “I realised I lost by less than a second. Four years of my life had led to that and I wasn’t ready for the result.”
In the podcast, Theresa talks about how she recovered and went on to win a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. It is an inspiring account of adaptability and living with no regrets.
Theresa trained hard in the lead up to Beijing and admits she lacked balance. There was no time for fun as she focused on winning, which made the ultimate loss all the more devastating.
While Theresa bounced back from the experience, she highlighted the importance of being ready for setbacks.
“The things you want don’t always come to you, and even though you prepare for success, you need to be ready for failure. If it happens and you’re not ready, the fall is hard.”
After the Beijing Paralympics, Theresa took a break from competitive swimming and took up powerlifting.
However, after nine months, she came to a crossroads and decided she wanted to get back in the pool. More importantly, she 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,” said Theresa.
Theresa admitted to choosing rest over training on some days, but said it was important to find that balance. “You need to know yourself and know your threshold, and sometimes you wake up knowing what you need is sleep. I probably had more of those days than I deserved, but I don’t believe in regrets...I’ve made my choices and am really happy with the person I am and the life I have,” she said.
Theresa said her bronze medal swim in Rio de Janeiro was the best race of her life. She felt none of the dread she felt in the lead up to Beijing. She also remembered being happy before the race as she waved to the crowd in the stands.
“I was ecstatic [to win]...but I also like to think about the bigger picture. After the race I was still the same person,” said Theresa. “I don’t think my medals, successes, or failures define me as a person. What defines me is constant evolution….and making whatever change I think is necessary to become better and better.”
Born with spina bifida, Theresa uses a wheelchair to get around.
Asha asked what that was like living in Singapore and how society could better support those living with disabilities. Theresa shared that accessibility was improving in Singapore, but there was more that could be done.
The most important thing, she said, was to actually ask people with disability what they needed. “When you’re planning something like a new building, don’t just think about what you might need to include, ask us,” said Theresa.
Stay tuned for the next episode with Leow Yangfa, Executive Director at Oogachaga and LGBTQ activist in Singapore. Out at 1:00 p.m. SGT Friday, November 13.
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