No limbs? No problem for shooter Aishah Samad

Ewan Mah
Fit to Post Sports

Nevermind that she almost died from bacterial infection a year ago. Forget that she only had a 20% chance of surviving while she lay sedated on 14 antibiotics and painkillers in an Intensive Care Unit for three months. So what, if she lost all four limbs to the gangrene that set in as a result?

Aishah Samad realizes she is more alive than ever and lives by the words painted on her prosthetic leg by a street artist: "I want. I can & I will succeed."

Now, she wants to make others like her aware that if she can do it, so can they.

The 41 year-old mother of two is a ball of energy, her voice bounces off the walls of her HDB flat in Bedok, and her zest for life is barely contained in her physically incomplete frame.

She is certainly more than the sum of her parts. “Yes,” she says, when asked if she feels more ambitious than before her amputations. She’s reaching higher—she wants to compete at the Paralympics.

The 2003 SEA Games bronze medallist retired from the national shooting team after a change in management of her company. It wouldn’t allow her to take time off to train for the months leading up to major competitions.

She moved on to coaching after her job as a CISCO auxiliary officer. Things were going swimmingly. Despite being a divorcee, she had two grown sons, Muhammad Syafiq Jafni, 21, and Muhammad Syaril Jazli, 18.

Then she was struck down by a bacterial infection.

After months in Changi General Hospital’s ICU, gangrene set in and Aishah lost all four of her limbs below the joints.

“Just when everything was going so perfectly, my world crumbled. Suddenly, all doors were closed to me,” she says in a wavering voice. “I told my sister that I was so crippled, so handicapped, so alien. But she said that I was what I was, and that I was only ‘physically incomplete’.”

A month later in October, she was discharged. By January, here physiotherapy was complete. By then, she had decided she was going to aim higher than she had ever aimed in life. Aishah was going to pick up her rifle again and compete.

“I miss the smell of gun powder. None of this air rifle stuff. I do the 50 metre live rounds event.” she glares, then smiles cheekily. “I just want to be in the sport I love. I also want to create awareness for those people like me that we are no worse off than you people,” she says, gesturing towards me with an invisible hand.

All that is stopping this ‘garang’ woman from going back to competitive action is the wait for her new prosthetic arms from overseas. Having received S$130,000 after a fund raising charity fun shoot in May, Aishah will now be able to afford the most advanced $40,000-$70,000 prosthetic for her right shooting arm. She still faces a wait from overseas distributors, and at least another two months of training before she can finally do the things people usually take for granted.

“I’ll be able to brush my teeth, wash my face, pick up things. The movements (of the fingers) will of course be more robotic than usual, but I’ll be able to shoot and more importantly, be confident that it’ll be safe when I’m handling my rifle. I’ll also be the first in Singapore to have such advanced prosthetics.”

Aishah will also be getting a less advanced left arm that will also allow her to do everyday things. Her legs will also be switched out as her stumps have started to shrink.

She will be like “The Bionic Woman” from the famous 1970s television series, I suggested.

“But I’d much rather be known as the ‘Six Million Dollar Woman’,” she laughs. A more catchy name, perhaps.

The future

Aisha will be taking part in the Jurong Lake Run on Sunday to create awareness. She wants people like her to know they are not disabled, but are simply physically challenged.

“I might just walk because I might not be able to run all the way on these legs, but I’ll definitely not be pushed in a wheelchair, which I considered for a while,” she says of the race, tongue completely in cheek.

The event is just one of the many things Aishah has lined up on her calendar. Despite not being able to shoot just yet, she’s started a motivational speaking company, “Positive Synergy”, with her older son, Singapore’s “Blade Runner Shariff Abdullah and another mutual friend.

So far, she’s done just two talks, with another due for later this month. She plans to continue doing this along with resuming her coaching, of which she’s already been offered her old job with Holy Innocence High School. And of course, there’s the Paralympics, which remain firmly in her sights.

“I give myself six months from the time I receive my arms to get back to competing. I can picture myself on the podium with a medal. And I’m not being unrealistic. Based on the category I can compete in and the people I know who are in this category, I am sure I can do well. I just want to make my family proud.”

Looking back over the last year, Aishah admits that despite her decision to always look at the glass as half-full, she still feels sad. “Yes, to be honest, I do. But I’m happy and appreciative to be alive. As the days go by, I start to see the little things that go my way. There are many people worse off compared to me like (Navy serviceman) Jason Chee and Nick Vujicic. I think of the positives.”

To Aishah, life now is always a “when” and never an “if”: “Everything that happens from now on is a bonus. If I doesn’t happen, I will still be contented.”