Tan claims equestrian bronze, also Asia’s first, at Paralympic Games
BY JEANETTE WANG
RIDING with Nothing To Lose, Laurentia Tan gained a place in the history books yesterday when she clinched Singapore’s first Paralympic medal at the Shatin equestrian venue in Hong Kong.
The 29-year-old, who was born with cerebral palsy and profound deafness, scored 68.80 percentage points on her chestnut mount to claim the bronze in the Individual Championship Test grade IA event.
It was also Asia’s first Paralympic equestrian medal.
Britain‘s Anne Dunham won the gold (73.10 per cent), while her compatriot Sophie Christiansen (72.80 per cent) bagged the silver.
Thirteen riders took part in the event.
‘I’m over the moon. I can’t believe it. It hasn’t sunk in yet,’ Tan told The Straits Times in a phone conversation aided by her mother, Jannie.
In para-dressage, riders are divided into four categories – grades I to IV – according to their disabilities. Grade I riders have the most severe disabilities.
They perform set movements as defined by the International Paralympic Equestrian Committee. Five judges mark the performance out of 10, and total it at the end to give a percentage score.
Tan, who was born in Singapore but moved to London at age 3, said she was a bit nervous in her Games debut.
‘But I focused on my movements and imagined that I was at my coach’s place doing one of my training sessions. That calmed me down,’ she said.
Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Dr Vivian Balakrishnan gave Tan a congratulatory call and expressed pride in her victory.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Community Development, Youth and Sports) Teo Ser Luck, who watched her performance, said: ‘Singaporeans, especially our youth and disabled community, should be inspired by her. We can live our dreams if we put our hearts and minds to them.’
The 20-year-old horse Nothing To Lose, also called Harvey, received a big hug from Tan plus carrots.
Tan, too, will be rewarded with $25,000 from the Singapore National Paralympic Council through its Athletes Achievement Awards scheme.
But the gains that she has had since she picked up horse riding at age 5 for physiotherapy far outweigh the monetary reward.
As a baby, she was diagnosed as ‘spastic’ by a doctor, who told her parents that she probably would not be able to walk.
As a child, she fell so often and had so many cuts and bruises that the school nurse and teachers affectionately nicknamed her ‘Trouble’.
At age 5, her back was floppy and she still could not sit and walk properly.
But riding, says Jannie, has not only improved her daughter’s condition – Tan can now walk and even drive a car – but also boosted her confidence and self-esteem.
‘Riding a horse gives me the freedom, movements and energy that my own legs cannot do,’ said Tan, who has an honours degree in Hospitality Management and Tourism.
Equestrian Federation of Singapore president Dr Melanie Chew hailed Tan’s achievement in a sport where medallists are often in their 30s and 40s.
She said: ‘Over the last month of training, Tan has physically transformed her body, which was quite spastic in its movement and muscle, to a strong posture and movements.
‘She’s better than many able-bodied athletes.’
Tan, who left her job as a mental health worker in June to train full-time, will compete in tomorrow’s Individual Freestyle Test Grade IA and perform movements to music.
Her message to fellow Singaporeans?
‘Go for your dreams.’