It's been a week since I've stopped (temporarily) going to office and started intensive training. Many were curious to know what it feels like switching to intensive training.

 

It's a lot like starting a new year at school... or starting a new job. A mix of excitement and anticipation. It felt a little odd not reporting for work last Monday and everyday since. At the same time, I was excited to experience for myself what life as a full time athlete would probably entail.

 

To slowly ease myself into the routine of intensifying my boccia training, I visited the Singapore Sports Institute a couple of times last week in the morning to have myself assessed medically and psychologically. Also tried out a sports massage (which was painful since I've never tried it before ) and got some advice on my nutritional needs. These sessions will regularly feature in the weeks ahead in preparation for London.

 

Every evening from 6 to 9pm in the past week (except Sat and Sun) I had on-court training. The usual familiarisation of my balls and ramp. This was somewhat unexpected since training was originally planned to be held in the afternoons. However, due to manpower constraints, training sessions shifted to evenings instead. Not such a bad thing, since my body could get used to functioning London time.

 

Saturday was back to the usual 9-to-5 boccia training with the rest of my teammates.

 

Today is only the second week and my colleagues at work are already missing me. I can't say the same about the work I had to leave behind for them to help me complete. I promise to bring back lots of English tea and jam when I come back from London!

 

Off to training now...!

NurulTaha

Do you wish...?

Posted by NurulTaha Mar 14, 2012

Ask someone, “Do you wish you were rich?” “Do you wish you were beautiful?” “Do you wish you were popular?”

 

For most, I think that the impulsive response to these questions is a resounding “Yes!”

 

Now, ask them “Why do you want to be rich, beautiful or popular? Are they the ‘ends’ you yearn for in life or merely ‘means’ to some other end(s)?”

 

It sets you thinking, doesn’t it?

 

I have spinal muscular atrophy. This is a neuromuscular condition where my muscles weaken and waste away due to the degeneration of nerve cells in my spinal cord. I used a manual wheelchair in primary school and upgraded to a motorised one in secondary school. My mobility aid before my schooling years was a child buggy, which drew a lot of stares from strangers – they must have thought my parents were spoiling me by giving in to my ‘refusal’ to walk. I can honestly say I don’t know what it feels like to stand, walk and run and so I cannot say I miss it at all.

 

So, when now and then, strangers ask me “Do you wish you could walk?” my response is to smile and change the subject. They probably then knocked their heads and thought “Why ask the obvious,” but in fact, I am not so sure if I even really want to walk.

 

Life, as I know it, happens in a wheelchair. Physical barriers (think stairs, steep hills, road kerbs, swinging doors...) are tough to overcome in wheels, but they do not stop me from leading a full life: going to university, doing voluntary activities, getting a job, competing in boccia and travelling overseas.

 

I may not be able to walk, but I can still do many things by myself and I am “independent” in my own way. We all have inner strengths, and I see adversity as a blessing that helps us to tap into and release that source of power that is deep within ourselves. Could I have done all these things had I been able to walk? Probably (except for competing in boccia, admittedly), but I am not so sure I would have been half as motivated to live my life as I have so far. I may have been able to do more things more easily, but I may not have found the same level of appreciation in the things I did.

 

What do I wish for, then?

 

If I was asked “Do you wish you could walk?”,  I want to able to confidently say “No”. Not because I do not hope to experience that, but because in my wheelchair, I am able to contentedly accomplish whatever I set out to do. I simply wish to be a useful person who contributes to society – this gives me satisfaction and makes me happy.

 

This is life as I know it and what matters is how I make the best out of it.

 

What about you - what do you wish for? Are you willing to make the best out of your life without the wealth, beauty or popularity you have always wished for?

NurulTaha

It's a wrap for 2011!

Posted by NurulTaha Dec 29, 2011

I'm wrapping up 2011...with a bout of cold, sorethroat and cough - the very things I've managed to avoid the entire year caught me just before the year end - no running away! I'm on medical leave this entire week to cough my lungs out and hopefully they'll be clean as a whistle to welcome the new year! A very important birthday (yes, yesterday was my birthday) lesson: Health is wealth!

 

Anyway, it feels surreal that the 2012 I have been waiting for (because of the London Paralympics of course!) will be here in 2 days! Looking back on 2011, I could have tried to make the run up to 2012 a bit  more... eventful?

 

The first half of 2011 was focused more on my "weekday" job. I needed to show that I am committed to both my work and sports. So to make up for the times I had to be away in 2010 for boccia competitions, I tried to put in even more effort at work this year. It seemed that my efforts were recognised and I was humbly relieved to be promoted. And so with the promotion comes bigger expectations of me, no? Ah... juggling this and boccia will definitely be a challenge.

 

I bought a new motorised wheelchair with an improved headrest... after 8 years? It was about time. I may have mentioned before, my wheels are my legs. So getting a new wheelchair meant that I had to accustom myself to my new legs. Part of this also involved designing a new and better ramp for boccia. Since my new wheelchair is higher and a little longer in length, I needed to re-adjust my playing style to ensure that everything remains within the playing space of of 1m x 2.5m.

 

2011 also presented many opportunities for me to promote disability sports and boccia in particular through newspapers, radio (my first radio interview - sitting in the studio with the headsets was fun!) and roadshows. The easiest was definitely the roadshows where I can physically show how boccia is played and onlookers could also give boccia a try. Describing boccia in words for print and radio is definitely not easy.

 

Talking about words, I may not have mentioned this before - I have been taking weekly Korean lessons. I started about 2 years ago - all in preparation for my plans to train with the best in boccia, i.e. the Korean team. Time looks to be running short but I'm confident this plan will materialise before the Paralympics next year. Meanwhile, I have my Beginner's Certificate in the 'Test of Proficiency in Korean' (TOPIK) to show I'm trying hard to learn the language.

 

These are just some of my non-boccia training recollections for 2011. 2012 will definitely require continued hard work. I'll be starting the year by getting certified as a public accountant. Then it'll be full steam ahead as we train for the Paralympics!

NurulTaha

And now we wait...

Posted by NurulTaha Oct 30, 2011

November will be a very anxious time for me. Although I'm not competing in any more major boccia events for the rest of the year, I'm feeling even more anxious waiting for the results of the BC3 Individuals events at both the Europa Cup 2011 and Parapan American Games 2011.

 

Both competitions are the last two London Paralympics qualifying events for athletes from both regions. Asian athletes already had ours last year at the Asian Para Games 2010.

 

So, I'll be biting my nails till 16 Nov 2011 - when the final matches would have been played at the Parapan American Games. Once the official results are out, I'll be able to calculate the points accumulated by all the BC3 individual athletes to date and determine whether I stand a good chance of qualifying for the London Paralympics.

 

To my fellow athletes in Europe and Americas: Please refrain from any surprise results, ok? Do your best nonetheless 'cos I'll be following your progress very closely!

NurulTaha

Defeating defeat

Posted by NurulTaha Oct 2, 2011

It's been over a month since I came back from the World Cup. I had been disappointed with my performance there and I wasn't sure if there was anything I could share on. It was particularly upsetting that I had somewhat jeopardised my standing to qualify for the 2012 Paralympics.

 

I realised that to overcome defeat, I need to think over and talk about the mistakes made. Fortunately, such opportunities came in the form of my visit to element14's new office in Singapore, the National Disability League and chats with my coaches and technical adviser. What did I learn?

 

  1. I need to worry less
    I gave myself too much pressure thinking about my competitors that I made certain decisions that resulted in poor shots. And that cost me the deciding game for the knock-out stage. I'm trying to learn to worry 'sufficiently', i.e. to be concerned with things that matter and things that I can control. As for the rest, I'll just have to keep them out of sight and mind.

 

  1. I must believe in my abilities
    I kept second-guessing both the accuracy of my aiming and my equipments. I ended up making over-compensations in my aiming adjustments and that made my shots less than ideal. I should have trusted my abilities and carried the same confidence I had during training through to major competitions.

 

  1. It's ok to make mistakes, as long as we don't make the same ones
    This is courtesy of Jerry from element14 - it was his message to the element14 staff during the staff get-together session on 14 Sep. It cannot be any truer.
    Babies fumble and fall when learning to walk; falling is inevitable when learning how to cycle. It's only when we figure out why we fell that we can rise and figure out how to avoid falling the same way. We may still fall, albeit differently from before. Only then can we succeed in walking and riding a bike.

 

I'm back to twice a week training now. Although the official invites to compete in the Paralympics are not out yet, I still stand a chance of qualifying.

I usually prefer not to talk too much prior to a competition so as not to jinx things. It goes without saying that I am excited about the forthcoming Boccia World Cup in Belfast, United Kingdom.

 

Recently, changes were made to the qualifications for the London Paralympics 2012 for boccia. To put simply, the more recent a competition is to the Paralympics, the more weight it carries. Hence, excellent performance at the World Cup is a must to guarantee a slot in the Paralympics.

 

We’ve recently increased training sessions to include 2-hr trainings on 2 weekdays and 8-hr trainings on Saturdays. I wished I could train more, but this is already quite draining considering that I still have a full time job. With that in mind, I have to value each training minute – I set a goal to train a specific skill at the beginning of each session and make sure that I master that skill sufficiently by the end of the session. Due to time constraints, I don’t have the luxury of time to revisit those skills before the World Cup.

 

Will just have to make the best out of limited resources!

NurulTaha

Talent and interest

Posted by NurulTaha Aug 1, 2011

Which is more necessary for success - talent or interest?

 

One needs talent or skills to be able to execute a task. Personally, i think talent is an inborn skill - it cannot be groomed. However, I think skills can be drilled and gained through experience.

 

Even with the required talent/skills, success may still not be achieved if there is no interest. Interest provides motivation to perfect/achieve a goal. And this interest is a must the more challenging the goal is.

 

Put simply, I think talent/skills are the technical requirements for success, whereas interest is the 'soft' requirements for success. It's hard to say that one is more necessary than the other, don't you think?

A recent interview I did for a local newspaper got me thinking why I've continued training and competing in boccia, despite facing many challenges.

 

Sports may appear to be a very simple concept: it is an activity you partake in to reach a certain level of competence and may choose then to pit your skills against others. In boccia, a lot of assistance and support is required to realise this basic concept of sports.

 

I rely greatly on a sports assistant and the use of assistive devices during boccia matches. A large portion of my training is spent on building a good relationship with the assistant - knowing how to give effective instructions and understanding how my assistant executes my instructions. Familiarising  myself with my ramp is also very important because a lot of time is saved during matches when I know exactly how I need to position the ramp and balls to achieve a particular shot. So if either the sports assistant or the assistive device has to be replaced, it's very difficult for me to adjust. Despite these difficulties, I believe if I want to do well, I must work with the people around me to achieve success.

 

Hence, the quote from Paolo Coelho's "The Alchemist": "And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." I'm not much of a reader, in fact, I don't really like to read. "The Alchemist" was one of those rare occasions I decided to finish a whole book and although I can barely recall what the book was about, this line from the book stuck. I think this quote has held true for me a couple of times.

 

You may recall my blog entry last year on the Boccia World Championships. My regular sports assistant who had trained with me for almost a year was unable to accompany me to the championships due to travel visa complications. Recalling the frustrating experience liaising with the various embassies to approve her visa application, I wondered how I kept sane through it all. The consequence was simple: no sports assistant meant that I cannot compete in the Championships. Perhaps the universe empathised with my situation (that I really wanted to compete in the Championships) - my ever-busy globe-trotting sister somehow managed to squeeze some time to assist me in the Championships. And as fate would have it, she'll be doing the same this year for the Boccia World Cup in August.

 

Another instance I can think of would be my fortune to have met my current 'technician' who's been continuously working on improving my assistive devices - the ramp and headpointer. Since I started training in boccia 2004, we've had great difficulty finding the right person to design and fabricate customised devices for me. Hence, we've relied on purchasing ramps of varying designs from other boccia teams overseas and perhaps didn't try hard enough to make our own ramps. However, I decided 2 years back that to improve my game play, I needed to use devices that met my specific needs. After asking around, I finally found someone who fit the bill. It's funny that I didn't manage to find him sooner when he happened to be a close acquaintance of my friend.

 

So, I'm really taken in by the idea that if you really want something, the people around you and circumstances will somehow converge to help you achieve it. Of course it doesn't mean that you just sit around all day chanting "I want ______" a million times hoping it will materialise. You need to put in effort too to help the universe conspire in helping you.

 

I also think that my experience with element14 is no coincidence. Meeting individuals who believe in high performance and are keen to share my sporting dreams - it must be part of some universal conspiracy.

It's already the end of May... There were some 'disruption's to this month's training sessions - Polling Day on 7 May and training courts unavailable on 21 May. 2x4 hrs may seem insignificant but with the World Cup in Aug fast approaching, each training minute is precious.

 

A typical training session on Saturdays begins at 9am with a warm up led by my team mate - stretch our necks, arms, fingers, trunk. Meanwhile, our sports assistants and volunteers will be busy unpacking our equipments (balls and ramps) and marking the courts for target practice. The coach and I will then do a quick briefing with the team on what each athlete trained the previous week and set goals/target for the current training session.

 

Skills training are 'customised' for each athlete so that we can focus on our weak areas. For example, I could be training on my accuracy of red balls at long distances, a team mate could be training her accuracy of blue balls at short distances, another team mate could be training 'breaking' balls apart, yet another team mate could be training accurate placing of the jack ball. At the start of the training session after the warm-up, we would have individually set goals/targets for our skills training that day. For example, I set the following target: To train in my accuracy of red balls at 9m, I will first roll the jack to a spot at 9m and then roll 3 sets of my 6 red balls; i must get 15 out of 18 red balls within a 50cm radius of the jack before I can move on to practice another skill. Our coach will do a quick test to see whether we achieve our personally set targets either before or after our 30min 11am break.

 

Here are some terms we've coined during our training that you may have seen me use elsewhere:
- best shot: propelling the jack to a preferred loation in the playing area, followed by the first coloured ball
- kissing: two balls touching each other
- knocking: ricocheting own coloured ball against an existing ball to land in a desired area
- bumping: using own coloured ball to push an existing own coloured ball nearer to the jack
- breaking: using own coloured ball to separate two balls that are kissing
- bomb: breaking 3 or more balls that are kissing such that they separate and disperse

 

The 30min break is a quick reprieve from the repetitive throwing/propelling/rolling actions earlier. I spend it catching up with my teammates and volunteers.

 

Following the break, we would normally have a match. It could either be a proper individual/pair/team match or a simulated games - I prefer simulated matches! =) A simulated match is like... playing chess with Deep Blue? A volunteer or coach will act as my opponent and instead of propelling the ball during his turn, he will go into the playing area itself to place his ball in a position where he thinks the world no. 1 player would execute. It's 'cruel' because these simulated shots are always perfect and that makes it challenging for me. No pain no gain, right? I think I learn best this way.

 

By the end of the match, which takes about 1.5hrs, it would be time to pack up our equipment and head home. While our sports assistants and volunteers assist to keep our balls and ramps, our coach and I will conduct a simple debrief for the team to reflect on the day's training.

 

For me, apart from skills training, I would also constantly be identifying problem areas with my ramp and thinking of solutions. I would then run my ideas by our 'technician' who will help fine tune and execute the changes to my ramp.

 

The next Saturday, this process repeats itself...

NurulTaha

1 year anniversary!

Posted by NurulTaha Apr 30, 2011

Time indeed flies when you're busy!  I find it hard to believe that it was a little more than a year ago that I had the privilege of meeting Salman and Nader (of then Premier Farnell) for the first time to explore how I could be supported in my dreams of representing Singapore in boccia at the London 2012 games.

 

Just two days ago, I was invited to a get-together among element14 colleagues in Singapore. I felt very welcomed despite meeting most of the attendees for the first time. Even had the chance to give 'live' demonstration of boccia and element14 staffs gamely tried their hand at the sport. I must say, there're some potential boccia players amongst you! How about setting up a recreational element14 boccia team?

 

I also heard that element14 is expanding its headcount in the Asia-Pacific region so probably there's going to be quite a number who may not be familiar with boccia and how it is played. How about a crash course?

 

History
Boccia is a traditional recreational sport, similar to bocce, lawn bowls or petanque. It is played by athletes who require a wheelchair because of severe physical disability. It was originally designed to be played by people with cerebral palsy but now includes athletes with other severe disabilities affecting motor skills, e.g. muscular dystrophy. Boccia originated in Greece, refined in Italy and then sanctions as a Paralympic sport in 1984. Boccia has no counterpart in the Olympic Games.

 

Game basics
Boccia can be played by individuals, pairs, or teams of three and all events are mixed gender. The aim of the game is to throw leather balls - coloured red or blue - as close as possible to a white target ball, i.e. jack ball. Each individual or pairs match comprises four ends and each team match comprises 6 ends (i.e. rounds).

 

The jack ball is thrown first by the red player, followed by the red ball by the same player and blue ball by the opposing player. The balls can be moved with hands, feet, or, if the player's disability is severe, with an assistive device such as a ramp.Thereafter, the player whose coloured ball is further away from the jack ball goes next in an attempt to either get closer to the jack ball or knock the opposition's ball out of the way. After each colored ball is thrown, the referee will check which coloured ball is further away from the jack ball to determine which player's turn is next. This will continue until one player has finished all their balls (each individual player has 6 balls to complete within a specific time limit), at which point, the opposing player will play their remaining balls.

 

Scoring
At the end of each end, the referee measures the distance of the balls closest to the jack ball, and awards points accordingly - one point for each ball that is closer to the jack ball than the opponent's closest ball to the jack ball. The player with the highest number of points at the end of a match is the winner. If both players have the same number of points after all ends have been played, one additional end (i.e. tie breaker) is played to determine a winner. If both players still have the same number of points, another tie breaker is played to determine a winner.

 

Equipment and court
Boccia is played on a court measuring 12.5m × 6m with 2m of empty space around it. The surface of the court is flat and smooth, usually on rubber mat or parqued floor. Each player must remain within the throwing area of the court that measures 2.5. x 1m.


The balls are made of leather and are slightly larger than a tennis ball - weighing approximately 275g and measuring 270mm in circumference. They are available in different levels of softness and hardness. There are also certain requirements of the wheelchair and assistive devices used.

 

Categories of players
Players need to be classified according to suitable categories to level the playing field:

  • BC1 category: Players have cerebral palsy, throw the ball with their hand or foot and may compete with a sports assistant who will stabilise/adjust their wheelchairs or pass the balls to them upon request.
  • BC2 category: Players have cerebral palsy, throw the ball with their hand and are not eligible for a sports assistant.
  • BC3 category: Players have severe locomotor skills and cannot grasp or release the ball or have insufficient range of movement to propel a ball onto the court. They may use an assistive device to propel the ball with the help of a sports assistant who must never look at the on-going match.
  • BC4 category: Players do not have cerebral palsy, have severe locomotor skills but have sufficient dexterity to throw the ball onto the court. Players are not eligible for a sports assistant.

 

Spirit of the game
The ethics and spirit of the game are similar to that of tennis. Crowd participation is welcomed and encouraged, however spectators, including team members not in competition, are encouraged to remain quiet during the action of a player throwing the ball.

 

Have I lost you? Perhaps the following videos will help!

 

  1. London 2012 Paralympic Games introduction to boccia - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmNxKoubdVw
  2. Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games gold medal match between the BC3 powerhouses - South Korea and Thailand - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqRws1KMrLs

The fact that I would be competing in the 1st Asian Para Games in less than a week hadn't really sunk in till yesterday night - when i was frantically memorising the athletes' pledge i was due to recite today as part of the flag presentation ceremony for the 1st Asian Para Games (APG). True I had gone through the routine of twice a week training sessions, coming up with a game plan, completing participation papers for APG, collecting the official Team Singapore contingent attire, etc. But it didn't dawn on me that I'll be flying off to Guangzhou, China for the games on 10 Dec 2010. Running through the pledge in my head gave me the opportunity to reflect on what sports and representing Singapore meant to me.

 

"In the name of all competitors, I promise that we shall take part in the 1st Asian Games,"

I felt this line alone carried so much responsibility. To represent the other 23 Singapore athletes and make a promise on their behalf is an honour.

 

"respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them,"

Rules are created to ensure proper conduct and clarity can be maintained when decisions are to be made. Boccia may involve subjective elements and that's where the referee's judgement and decision must be respected.

 

"committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs,"

Sports is about human strength - both mental and physical skills. Hence it is only fair that when we compete, we compete with our skills and without enhancements. In fact, in boccia, athletes are already classified according to various types and degrees of disability to level the playing field.

 

"in the true spirit of sportsmanship,"

In the past, there were instances when circumstances were not in my favour and the injustice seemed too much for me to handle. But in the spirit of sportsmanship, I knew I must not make a mountain out of a molehill and the games must go on. When I learn to let to go of things beyond my control and move on, I'm able to focus better on my games.

 

"for the glory of sport and the honour to our nation."

It is truly an honour to be selected as a national representative. Not everyone is given this opportunity therefore I must put in effort, give a good fight and show the world that atheletes in disability sports can similarly bring honour to Singapore.

 

flagpledge.jpg

The pledge recital moment is already a blur in my head but I was told I neither missed any words nor fumbled. Phew.

No no...I'm not participating as an athlete at Singapore 2010 (I'm unfortunately over-aged...). I was one of the 2,400 torchbearers instead! On the 12th of Aug 2010... ...

 

 

 

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Here I was at Lamp post 77 waiting for the Youth Olympic Games Journey of Youth Flame!

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Getting tagged "5356" just before the Flame arrives!

pic2a.jpg

What's that commotion?!

pic2b.jpg

It's the Coca-Cola bus blaring loud music and cheers from the supporters of the torch relay! Coca-Cola is one of the presenting partners for the torch relay.

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Not to be outdone is the Samsung bus with their cheerleaders! Samsung is another presenting partner.

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I can see torch-bearer 5355 coming my way!

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Torch-bearer 5355 and me giving a quick pose for the cameras before he hands over to me the Flame!

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Carefully handing over the Flame to me...

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Here we go! 5 support runners kept a lookout for me...

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Ah...I can see Torch-bearer 5357 ahead...

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Another quick pose (the flame above my head was really hot!) before I say farewell to the Flame as it continued on its journey around Singapore!

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A once in a lifetime experience!

 

Over 3,600 youth athletes are competing in 26 sports at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games. I'm glad I had the opportunity to create my own YOG memories! It's an honor to be part of the  journey travelled by this special Flame that was lit in Ancient Olympia and had travelled across all 5 continents before touching Singapore soil.

 

The YOG has hit its halfway mark as of today and I look forward to catching more matches of these inspiring young athletes. On a side note, I look forward also to the day the YOG includes its Youth Paralympic Games counterpart! Young athletes in disability sports should be given the chance to compete at such prestigious and challenging levels too.

This blog entry is long overdue and I hope the long wait will not disappoint you. Please read on about my recent World Championships experience. Only two BC3 players - my partner and myself - represented Singapore at this World Champs and we were supported by 2 caregivers and 2 officials.

___________________________________________________________

 

29 May - 30 May
airport1.bmpWe departed about 10pm local time on a 13-hr flight to Munich, Germany, for our transit. It was my longest flight to date and I had worried how I would cope. The first 3 hours or so was bearable. Following that my tailbone started to hurt and no amount of shifting in my seat could truly relieve the pain. I ended up sleeping hunched over the tray table and surprisingly I didn't get a neckache. In fact, this 'unique' sleeping position did ease some of the pain off my tailbone. The air was extremely dry that I wrapped by face with my windbreaker to try and keep humidity high and took regular gulps of water (going to the airplane washroom would have been too cumbersome, so I chose to regulate my water intake instead).

 

We reached Munich about 5am where we napped for a while at the airport while waiting for our connecting flight at about 10am. Coincidentally, we too

k the same connecting flight as the Canadian team and the Hungarian team. I don't think the airline had served so many wheelchair-users in a single flight!

 

 

We reached Lisbon about 12pm and headed straight for our hotel. It was to my surprise that athletes had to wheel to and fro the competition venue which was about 20 minutes away (in all my previous competitions, a dedicated transport service was always provided, but then again, the competition venues were usually a lot further from the accommodation). We called it a day (after close to 22 hrs of travel) and looked forward to the training session tomorrow.

 

31 May - 1 Jun
training1.bmpWe had two 2-hr training sessions to familiarise ourselves with the flooring to be used at the competition venue and also the weather (it was surprisingly humid and hot, very much like Singapore!). It was also the first time my sister, who was my sports assistant, got a taste being in a competition venue as a boccia competitor and not a spectator. Two weeks before we were due to leave for Lisbon, my regular sports assistant confirmed that she was not able to join the singapore team to the World Champs due to visa constraints. Thankfully my sister enthusiastically jumped on board to assist me and we had an intensive 8hrs of training per week for during that two weeks.

 

During this 2-day period, I was also classified and had my equipments checked.

 

 

 

 

first day1.bmp

 

Classification is an important process in disability sports because it strives to level the playing field among athletes with varying degrees of disabilities. In boccia, it means that a player who cannot use his/her arm to throw the balls (like myself) would not compete with another player who can. Therefore boccia currently has 4 categories for players with different disabilities. The classifiers confirmed that I would remain in the BC3 category (not that this was much of a surprise because it was really impossible for me to have qualified for the other categories...)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

equipmentcheck1.jpg

The players are not the only ones who go through a 'healthcheck' - our equipments do too! Our balls and assistive devices were checked to ensure that they comply with the regulations of the sport. My ramp and balls were given a 'clean bill of health' and were good to go!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a simple Opening Ceremony on the evening of 1 Jun to introduce the 34 participating countries and for both officials and athletes to undertake our oaths of fairplay. On with the games...

 

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2 Jun - 4 Jun
Today marked the official start of matches. Unlike previous competitions I've been to, this World Champs started with the Pairs/Teams events followed by the Individual events. Hence, Pairs/Teams events were held from 2 Jun to 4 Jun. I found this arrangement odd at first but warmed up to the idea because by competing in the Pairs events first, I have the opportunity to observe my potential competitors and therefore strategise better for my Individual events.

 

For BC3 Pairs, 24 participating countries were grouped into 6 pools. The top 2 ranked from each pool plus 4 point qualifiers across all pools would proceed to the Round of 16.

 

Our first Pairs match was against Hong Kong on the morning of 2 Jun. The Hong Kong pair also comprised a player with muscular dystrophy (like me) and a player with cerebal palsy (like my partner). You could say that this was as'level' a playing field as one could get. We started of very well, earning 4 points in the first end, but found it hard to win more points in the subsequent ends. Hong Kong consistently managed to overcome us and earned 1 point for each of the subsequent 3 ends. The match ended with a score of 4:3 in favour of Singapore.

 

In the afternoon, we competed against Great Britain. It was our first time meeting Great Britain and were unsure what to expect of them. My partner and I did well in the first 2 ends, ensuring the our opponent's score was kept nil (I can't really recall now how many points exactly we were leading by the end of the first 2 ends). Great Britain called for a time out after the second end and the 2 minute time out was a welcomed break for my partner and I too. As we were about to commence the third end, I heard the unforgetable crushing sound of plastic and found that one of my ramp extensions had broken into three pieces. In that moment that I realised I had to restrategise my game plan for subsequent matches, especially my individual matches, seeing that part of my ramp was broken. The match proceeded and with the support of my partner we managed to win the match with a final score of 10:0.

 

We tried to fix the broken extension after the match with Great Britain. I was touched to have received much assistance from other teams, considering we lacked a 'technician', but we could not get the 'fixed' extension to function effectively. It was too much 'excitement' for one day so decided to head back to the hotel and deal with each coming day as it comes.

 

The next morning, 3 Jun, was our final pool match with Spain. It was a closely fought game which we won with a score of 3:2. After this match, we waited for the official results tally that determines whether we proceed to the Round of 16. It was interesting to note the unique results tally for our pool. As mentioned earlier, our pool comprised 4 countries. Hong Kong, Spain and Singapore each won 2 matches which meant that we had to look at point differences to determine the top 2 countries from our pool who would proceed to the Round of 16. Due to our huge win over Great Britain, we topped the pool in terms of point difference, followed by Hong Kong. Interestingly, Spain was one of the 4 point qualifiers among the remaining 12 countries and as fate would have it, we met Spain again in the Round of 16 that afternoon.

 

It seemed that Spain had fully appreciated our match in the morning because we lost to them in the Round of 16 with a score of 3:4. I was slightly disappointed as I had expected to repeat the earlier win. Nonetheless, I was still satisfied that we managed to meet our goal of making it past the pool matches for pair events. In fact, we finished a respectable 10th out of the 24 countries participating in the BC3 Pairs.

 

Since 4 Jun was the day for matches from quarter finals to finals for pairs and team events, I spent some of the free time to train further for the individual matches to come. I also discussed with my sports assistant and team manager/coach on my game plans seeing that the broken ramp extension hindered me from playing long distances. We also managed to catch the semi-finals and finals for the BC3 Pairs to have a sense of the styles and strategies adopted by other players.

 

5 Jun - 7 Jun
match1.jpgDuring dinner-cum-debrief session on 4 Jun, our team manager informed us of our match draws for the following 3 days. Prior to that, we had tried to anticipate our respective competitors based on the standard match allocation system. Unfortunately, our guesses were in vain because an additional player was included in the list which kind of threw our allocation off course. 67 players were grouped into 16 pools and the top 2 from each pool would proceed to the Round of 32. My matches for the pool round were all scheduled in the afternoon and all 3 competitors were new to me. It was something I had looked forward to at a competition open to players beyond the Asia Pacific region.

 

Playing afternoon matches can be quite a mental challenge, especially if they're after lunch when you're loaded on carbs and just feel like taking an afternoon nap. So i made sure that lunches were light - not that this was difficult because we were given sandwiches, yoghurt drink, fruit juice, dessert and a fruit for lunch.

 

My first individual match was with a German player, Benharkat, on 5 Jun who was ranked 47th (I was ranked 5th as at the start of the World Champs). Benharkat's wheelchair was really big and I was amazed how she managed to maneuvre with ease and always remained within the player's playing box of 1m by 2.5m. As the red player, I started the first end and earned 2 points. For the second end, Benharkat chose to place her jack ball at about 9m, which was close to the end of the court. I was anxious for a moment wondering whether my balls could reach that distance without the required extension that broke. I managed to reconfigure the remaining functioning portions of my ramp to give enough height for my harder balls to reach that distance and hence won this end with 2 points. In the third end, it seemed that my opponent had difficulty knocking away my ball that was touching the jack ball. She hence chose to block me with her remaining balls but I managed to inch 2 more balls close to the jack to win 3 points in this end. For the fourth end, Benharkat's jack ball crossed the side boundaries of the court and was therefore invalid. It became my turn instead to place the jack ball, which I did similar to the first and third end. Benharkat seemed to have understood my game play and was therefore able to win 3 points in this final end. Overall, I won the match against Benharkat with a final score of 7:3.

 

My match on 6 Jun was with a young Colombian player, Garavito, who was ranked 38th. Though Garavito was ranked higher than Benharkat, I felt more confident going into this match as compared to the previous day's match. I played the blue balls for this match and although I was more comfortable with my red balls, I won this match with a final score of 10:0. On hindsight, I should have scored more points because the game situation for each end were those that I have practiced before. Although Garavito often used up all his balls to inch closer to the jack ball in all the ends, his last ball usually touches the jack and that makes it hard for me to overcome the situation. I also failed to monitor my timing and therefore was unaware that the timer did not stop the time when my turn was over for the first end. In short, I was somewhat disappointed with my performance for this match.

 

On 7 Jun, I competed with an unranked Australian player, Cooper. I remember feeling a bit tense for this match because I needed to win this match to guarantee qualification to the Round of 32 without having to worry about point differences. Again, I had to play the blue balls for this match but this did not deter me from winning 1 point for each of the first 2 ends. In the third end, I was not able to overcome Cooper's red ball that was touching the jack ball hence I chose a defensive approach and placed my balls such that they prevent Cooper from gaining more points. He won 1 point in the third end. For the last end, my first blue ball was placed such that it was difficult for Cooper to overcome to get closer to the jack ball. With the 4 points earned in the fourth end, I won the match with a final score of 6:1 and consequently made it to the Round of 32. It was only much later that evening that I would find out who my competitor will be in the Round of 32.


8 Jun
spain1.bmpThis morning, my Round of 32 match was against a Spanish player, Pena. I was quite excited to be going up against her because she was ranked 4th, which I inferred to mean that our skills should be almost on par. Also, she was one of the players I had competed against in the BC3 Pairs matches against Spain so it would be interesting to she how she performs individually. Being able to play my favorite red balls was a good sign for me. I played the jack ball for the first end at my usual 3m spot. Although my first red ball did not touch the jack ball I eventually managed to get another ball close to the jack and hence earn 2 points in this end. For the second end, it seems that Pena has caught on that I did not like playing long distances and therefore chose to place her jack ball in the region of 8m. I faced great difficulty trying get close to the jack and opted to use my last 3 balls to block Pena from gaining more points. This stategy seemed to work because she could not gain access to the jack ball and hence earned 1 point for this end. For the third end, I replicated the 2 point win in the first end. In the final end, Pena again chose to play the jack ball in the region of 8m. This time, I had the experience of the secong end to identify the suitable balls and ramp heights to place my balls close to the jack ball. Within 2 tries I managed to place my red ball snugly between the jack ball and Pena's blue ball. Pena was unable to use her remaining 3 balls to dislodge my ball and therefore allowed me to earn 1 point in this end. The final score was 5:1 and with that I met my coach's target for me to qualify for the Round of 16.

 

greece1.bmpAfter lunch, I found out that I would play against a Greek player, Pananos, who was ranked 24th, later in the afternoon. From my team manager's previous observations of him, I found him to be a player with strong aiming and directional skills. In the first end, I made the mistake of placing my red ball too far away from the jack ball therefore allowing Pananos to place his ball closer to the jack. After a few times of us taking turns to propel our balls because with each turn we each got closer to the jack ball, Pananos accidentally hit my red ball and it touched the jack ball. This sealed a 1 point win for me. In the second end, Pananos placed his jack ball in the region of 5m and I managed to place my red ball to touch the jack ball. Although Pananos subsequently managed to dislodge my ball, my ball remained closer to the jack ball than any of his balls. I pushed another red ball closer to the jack ball and earned 2 points in this end. In the third end, I placed the jack ball at my preferred 3m spot and placed my first red ball somewhat close to the jack ball. In the course of play, Pananos hit the jack ball out of the side boundaries of the court. This  meant that the jack ball had to be place at the centre of the court at the 'cross' mark. I managed to place 3 of my balls close to the new location of  the jack therefore earning 3 points . With 6 points thus far, I was not ready to take a defensive approach for the final end because anything could happen and I did not want Pananos to earn 6 points triggering a tie breaker. It was a tough fight in the final end and eventually I managed to earn 1 point. The final score was 7:0 and with this I met my personal target to qualify for the quarter finals.

 

We headed back to the hotel for dinner and prepared ourselves for what could be a long day tomorrow.


9 Jun
canada1.bmpIn the morning, I had my quarter final match with a Canadian player, Martino. Although she was unranked (because she did not participate in her regional games for the 2009-2012 quadrennial), she was an experienced player who ranked 17th in the Beijing Paralympics. I had to play my blue balls for this match so Martino opened the first end. Despite her first red ball not touching the jack ball I did not manage to get my first ball closer either. I only managed to do so with my fourth ball, which Martino then knocked away. Nonetheless my final ball touched the jack ball earning me 1 point. I also earned 1 point each in the second and third ends. Martino's balls often blocked my balls from getting closer to the jack ball. In the final end, 2 of Martino's red balls looked like they were equidistant to the jack ball as was my blue ball. I was afraid of a 2-1 tied score for this end and hence used a ball to push the jack ball towards my blue ball. This resulted in me earning 2 points with the final score being 5:0 in my favour. Off we go the semi-finals!

 

semis1.bmpMy semi-final match was with a Portuguese player, Macedo, who was ranked 11th. I started the first end since I was the red player. Again, I made the mistake of placing my red ball too far away from the jack which made it easy for Macedo to earn 2 points. What Macedo did for the second end caught me by surprise - he placed the jack ball at a distance of less than 2m! It was so near to me that I felt the urge to use my hand to throw my balls instead of using the ramp (but of course we know this will not work because I have no arm strength to even hold the ball). As expected, most of my balls overshot the jack ball and barely blocked Macedo; hence allowing him to earn 2 points. I decided to try something different for the third end and placed my jack ball in a further region of 5m. It was a bad move because Macedo is apparently really good at this distance and easily earned 4 points. With 8 points in the bag by the end of the third end, Macedo obviously has won this match. He earned another point in the final end to win the match with a final score of 9:0. This match was my single loss in the entire individual matches at the World Champs. But I'm glad I did not let this loss affect me in my Bronze medal match.

 

Barely half an hour after the end of my semi-final match, I had to report to the call room for the finals bronze medal match with another Portuguese player, Silva, who was ranked 7th. Going into the match, I thought of taking it easy seeing that I had already met my personal target yesterday. But on second thought, I felt I should at least give this final match a good fight. Afterall, this match would make a difference as to whether I go home with a medal or medal-less. haha.

 

win1.bmp

Since I won the coin toss, I got to choose red - my preferred balls! The first end started as per my usual routine, i.e. place the jack ball at my preferred spot. Although my first red ball touched the jack, Silva managed to dislodge it and eventually when it came to measuring the balls' distances when the end was completed, it took the referee 5 tries to confirm that it was a 1-1 tie. In the second end, Silva placed the jack ball in the region of 3m. The situation was difficult but I managed to earn a couple of points. Again in the third end, I earned a few more points. For the fourth end, Silva's jack ball did not enter the valid playing area of the court which meant that it was my chance again to place the jack ball. It had been a long day and I didn't feel like trying anthing new in this final leg so I stuck to my preferred spot and ensured that my first red ball was close to the jack. Silva was unable to overcome this situation and I was happy to settle for 1 point in this end. It was only when the referee showed the final score of 6:1 that it dawned on me that I had won the bronze medal.

 

We then had the customary medal ceremony at the Closing Ceremony. It was a very proud moment to see the Singapore flag being raised. I hope that there will come a day for me to see the Singapore flag placed in the centre instead of on the right and to hear the Singapore anthem being played.

 

medalceremony2.jpgmedal1.jpgrosseau1.jpg

 

10 Jun
I barely had a few hours to explore Lisbon because we had to report to the airport early. My sister and I managed to take the public bus and subway to travel a small town square, Rosseau. We walked the cobbled streets, took in the sights, bought a few souvenirs and rushed back to the hotel to catch the transport to the airport. Another 22-hour air travel awaits us...

 

 

_________________________________________________________________________

 

The World Champs had been an enriching experience for me because it was my first time competing with athletes from beyond the Asia Pacific region. There are a lot of technical skills i need to drill on and areas I need to improve on. I'm back to weekly trainings now and gearing up for the Asian Para Games in Guangzhou China sometime in Dec 2010.

 

team2.bmp

NurulTaha

Physics question...

Posted by NurulTaha May 28, 2010

It's been a very busy May for me. I've increased the number of my training hours per week from 4 hours to 11 hours in the lead up to the Boccia World Championships from 30 May to 10 Jun 2010. It'll be my first time meeting boccia athletes beyond the Asia Pacific region and I'm excited to learn from them first-hand because there's only so much you can learn from watching videos on Youtube.


Spending over 11 hours at training to get accustomed to my assistive devices and perfecting my shots got me wondering whether there was a simpler way to determine the exact location of a ball on my ramp that will result in it landing at a particular distance. Let's see whether the following pictures can help illustrate what I mean. Firstly, let us take a look at the ramp and how i use it to propel my balls with the help of my headpointer and sports assistant.

Ramp-side_view.JPGusing headpointer1.JPG

Now on to the physics question. Please refer to the diagram below:

 

rampDiagram.jpg

 

 

Assume that a ball placed in the location above will travel a distance of 5m upon leaving the tip of the ramp.

1. Relative to the position of the ball above, how far up/down the length of the ramp should the ball be placed to achieve a travelled distance of 3, 7 and 9m?

2. If the height of the ramp is insufficient, how much more ramp extensions (dotted portion in the diagram) is required?

 

Have fun solving this problem! I hope to hear some solutions from you. =) Your solutions would help me familiarise faster with any new set of balls.

NurulTaha

Technology and me

Posted by NurulTaha Apr 9, 2010

I’ve never consciously thought about how technology impacts my life. So, my inaugural blog entry is dedicated to exploring how technology aids me in my daily activities and enables me to train and compete in boccia.

 

The technology that I rely the most on during my waking hours is my motorised wheelchair. Due to spinal muscular atrophy, my muscles are weak and I have never been able to walk. Wheeling myself in a manual wheelchair is also a chore because of my weak arms. Hence, a motorised wheelchair acts as the ‘legs’ that carry me around as I go to work, boccia training and attend other leisure activities. If you take away the motorised wheelchair from me, only then I think I’ll feel ‘handicapped’.

 

In boccia, I am classified as a BC3 player due to the extensive weakness of my muscles. I have very poor control of my trunk, I can’t raise my arms over my head and I can’t grasp a boccia ball (what more throw the 275gram ball across the 10m long boccia court). So, how do I play boccia then?

 

In the BC3 category, athletes are allowed to use assistive devices and engage a sports assistant during a game. The assistive devices that I use currently comprises a ramp (for the ball to roll off from at an incline) and a head-pointer (a stick that functions like an extended finger for me).

 

Over the course of 7 years playing boccia, I’ve gone through 4-5 types of ramps and 2 head-pointers. My first ramp was the simplest – it looks a lot like a PVC pipe split into half along its diameter. It allowed the ball to sit nicely in it and roll down along it when the ramp was inclined. My first head-pointer was simply an adjustable radio antenna attached to a cap with tape.

 

Now, my ramp can be raised towards my eye level to allow me to aim and locate a specific desired spot on the boccia court. If I need my balls to gain more potential energy and roll a further distance, I can attach additional sections to the ramp to make it longer and higher. My existing head-pointer is a durable aluminium stick secured firmly on a bicycle helmet.

 

Though both my ramp and head-pointer have evolved over the years and are serving their purposes well currently, I don’t expect them to be the last. Each time I participate in an international competition, I have the opportunity to observe the ramps and head-pointers used by other BC3 athletes and yearn to improve mine so that I can play better.

 

When major competitions are over, I catch up with fellow boccia athletes and coaches from other countries (yes, we’re pretty 'civil' off the boccia court since we’re not bent on winning a match) via email and Facebook. The internet is a fascinating medium for knowledge sharing – videos and pictures of boccia skills training and matches can be shared instantaneously and this facilitates online discussions on how to improve our skills in boccia.

 

Technology has not only made it possible for me to move about independently, it has enabled me to go one step further and take on boccia competitively.

 

By the way, I’m looking forward to trying out a new head-pointer prototype at boccia training tomorrow!

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