Claire Toh

I love who I am today and am thankful for my life now.

19 Oct or was it 21 Oct 2012, the day my life changed – Not that it still matters but that was the day I broke my spinal cord and had to adapt to my new normal.

After leaving the hospital, I found a job and enrolled in school. I graduated with a diploma in mass communications, while juggling work and table tennis training.

A chance encounter got me to try out table tennis – a sport I played in primary school and I have never looked back since. I realized that playing table tennis is not difficult, but to master the sport and to play at this intensity with the various skill sets and techniques makes it challenging. There's this thrill that the game gives and it keeps you thinking of the next step. At the end of the day, the hours spent practicing and understanding the techniques are both mentally and physically draining albeit fulfilling.

My debut was in 2015 when I played at the ASEAN Para Games hosted by Singapore. It was an eye-opening experience and playing on home ground gave me the strength to press on. The cheers and roars of my fellow Singaporeans were heartwarming and it gave me the extra encouragement, knowing that I was part of Team Singapore and that I was given the opportunity to bring pride to our country.

This year, the ASEAN Para Games 2017 was hosted in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur and it was just as memorable as my debut game because it was my first “away” game. We almost clinched the bronze medal for Team Events. As for my singles’ games, I was grouped against the defending champions and it was definitely a great experience. The lessons and experiences gained will help me progress tremendously as an athlete, as I believe there will always be something to learn from both defeat and victory.

Besides gaining competition experience, I have forged new friendships with players from other countries and I think that this is one of the things I love about playing sports. We are a bunch of people who share the same passion and we are always receptive to new inputs. Being open to teaching and learning from one another builds a form of support system that creates a bond amongst sportspersons.

I would say the best quality about myself is that I am fiercely independent and the irony of having a spinal cord injury meant that being independent is a whole new level, with an entirely new meaning.

I had to learn everything about my “new” body and my limitations. I was rather despondent to know that I had to depend on my family for simple daily tasks in the beginning. However, I refused to be dependent. Acknowledging the limitations that came with my disability helped and with that, I have adapted rather well despite the changes.

As embarrassing as it is to admit, I was foolish enough to think that one can’t be independent after suffering from a spinal cord injury and boy, am I glad I was so wrong.

Slowly but surely - doing the same task takes a longer while, or a different method, but it is still possible. I just had to figure out different ways of doing the same things.

Things weren’t always as smooth sailing as you see on the surface. Having a spinal cord injury (in my case) comes with a lot of pain – nerve pain, burning sensations, the bad spasms, pressure sores and the frequent UTIs.

There were days where I wondered repeatedly, “Where is the blessing in disguise?” but I guess I stopped searching for the answer or maybe this is the answer. Because life is good now, despite the pain.

I love who I am today and am thankful for my life now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I am truly blessed to have my family members and friends who are always there, supporting me every step of the way. I think you can say that the best of me would be them. It would have been impossible to be who I am today without their unwavering support and love. For they have never made me feel that it is impossible for me to do anything, just because I have to do it on a wheelchair now.
Claire Toh