Introducing Laurentia Tan

By Ghui

Sports have the ability to unite, the power to motivate and an immense capacity to inspire. It has the propensity to foster teamwork, develop confidence, build character and enhance endurance. Its crucial role in humanity can therefore never be underplayed.

All of these awe-inducing traits were displayed on Sunday, 5 August 2012 when South African Oscar Pistorius ran the 400 metres semi finals at the Olympics. He may have finished last but Pistorius has secured his place in sporting history by becoming the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics. His journey to the Olympics and the obstacles that he has had to overcome is nothing short of a Hollywood movie script and commands utmost respect. What his incredible story highlights is that nothing is unachievable with determination, willpower, hard work and a “never say die” attitude.

With all that focus on the “able bodied”, Pistorius’s achievements has sent a strong message that ANYONE can achieve their goals. He has also narrowed the gap between the so called “able bodied” and the “disabled”. It is in that spirit that I introduce one of our own inspiring sportswomen – Laurentia Tan, who has been selected to represent Singapore in the individual and team dressage events in this year’s Paralympics.

Laurentia who is deaf with cerebral palsy, took up horse riding as part of her physiotherapy at the age of 5. Horse riding developed her muscle strength and improved her coordination and posture. It also provides her with freedom of movement and energy. When asked how horse riding has changed her life, Laurentia replied that riding has given her inspiration and imbued in her the belief that anything is possible in life such that even when things do not go according to plan, it is how one responds or approaches a perceived problem that really counts.

As Laurentia rightly highlights, Dressage is not just about the partnership between a horse and its rider but also about people working together and supporting each other. Like any other sport, horse riding teaches other important life lessons such as the value of communication, trust and teamwork.

Laurentia’s positive attitude and strength of character certainly makes her a role model but when asked if she saw herself as a role model for young Singaporeans, Laurentia was keen to state that while she hoped that her achievements were a source of inspiration, there are many other qualities such as passion, humility and a sense of humour that make a person a role model.

Since the age of 6, Laurentia had been the only physically disabled person in all her schools. She knew that she was slower than her friends but always strived to do everything that her “able bodied” friends could do. Despite moments of frustration, Laurentia always believed in “practice, practice, practice…. and laugher”!

Using chopsticks, being able to drive and roller skating are examples of daily activities that she has striven to do and when faced with doubters, her response is steadfast and resolute – “How will we know I can’t do it, unless I try?”

Horse riding is one of the few sports in which men and women compete on a level playing field with each other. Apart from equality between the sexes, horse riding also emphasises the bonds that can be forged between animals and humans. Beyond the bonds that exist between a pet owner and a pet, Laurentia sees her 2 horses as partners. They work together and are a team. There have been times where Laurentia has not felt confident but was spurred on by her horse, Harvey, who shows her that she can do it and vice versa.

Laurentia’s journey from leisure riding to competitive riding has its ups and downs. One of the challenges is in relation to her hearing. With her profound deafness, she is unable to hear the music when doing the Freestyle to Music in Equestrian and this affects her ability to pace herself. In Laurentia’s case, this hurdle is overcome by permitting someone to enter the arena with her. Her companion will put his or her hand up to signal the sound technician to start the music and Laurentia begins her routine when her companion’s hand comes down.

As a medal winner in the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games and a medal hopeful for the 2012 London Paralympic Games, Laurentia believes that horse riding should be made more accessible to the general public. Perhaps it could be offered as an option in physical education or as a co-curricular activity in schools?

In parting, Laurentia had this to say: “My experience and achievements have shown me that sometimes, things may not go as planned but these things happen for a reason. Sometimes, opportunities and dreams may come our way disguised and so everyone should grab whatever opportunities that they can. Carpe Diem! You never know where things may lead so go ahead and follow your dreams. Persevere! Focus on the things you enjoy and that make you happy. Life is too short to do otherwise”!

As a Singaporean, I am very proud to have Laurentia represent us on the world stage. Her grit and tenacity are lessons for us all. Good luck Laurentia!