Para-swimmer Yip Pin Xiu ready for Tokyo 2020 push despite new key roles

Singapore para-swimmer Yip Pin Xiu accepts her prize money from Singapore National Paralympic Council chairman Kevin Wong (far left) and Singapore Totalisator Board chief executive Fong Yong Kian (in jacket) at the Athletes Achievement Awards ceremony on 31 October, 2018. (PHOTO: Singapore Disability Sports Council)

It’s been a momentous few months for para-swimmer Yip Pin Xiu, with the athlete having taken on several prominent roles on top of winning more gold medals at top-level competitions.

The 26-year-old multiple Paralympic gold-medallist was appointed a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) in September. Last month, she won her first-ever Asian Para Games (APG) gold in Jakarta.

On Thursday (1 November), she also became the first person with a disability here to be featured in an advertising campaign for a major beauty company – Lancome – according to a Straits Times report.

If Yip has been overwhelmed by these new responsibilities, she certainly did not show it during the Athletes’ Achievement Awards ceremony held by the Singapore National Paralympic Council (SNPC) at Andaz Singapore Hotel on Wednesday evening.

She was her usual jovial self, flashing a big smile as she accepted $65,000 in prize money from sponsor Tote Board and SNPC for winning one gold and two bronze medals at the APG. Individual para-athletes earn $35,000 for each gold, $25,000 for each silver and $15,000 for each bronze won at an APG.

She also hinted that she could continue even after the 2020 Tokyo Games, which would be her fourth Paralympics appearance. Yip also participated in the 2008 Beijing, 2012 London and 2016 Rio de Janeiro editions of the Games.

“Is there a better word for ‘tiring’?” she wondered aloud with a laugh as she spoke to Yahoo News Singapore at the ceremony.

“I feel like I’ve been living my life in four-year cycles ever since I was 12 – from Beijing to London to Rio. I think it’s normal that whenever it gets very tiring, it feels like you’re done. But once it’s over, you feel like, ‘Oh, maybe I can go again.’ So I really have to see what happens after Tokyo.”

Racing against time

It would seem like Yip’s whole life is a race against time, given that her condition – muscular dystrophy – is gradually weakening her muscles.

After losing her ability to kick early in her career, she had to switch swimming styles from the front crawl to the backstroke.

She also had to be re-classified multiple times in terms of her disability sports category as her condition worsened. Her classification went from S5 to S2, with the lower number indicating a greater severity of disability.

Yip said, however, that these setbacks are the reason she is eager for every opportunity to give back to the community that nurtured her. Sports issues will rank high among the issues she intends to address as an NMP, along with climate change and considerations for the environment.

“Being in my role as a full-time athlete does help my NMP duties,” she said. “I get to speak to the athletes as well as officials from Sport Singapore, and having these interactions will help me in highlighting the issues.”

She is already a leader among the para-sports community, having been the chef de mission in charge of a 30-strong contingent at last year’s Asian Youth Para Games in Dubai.

She laughed off the “role model” tag, however, and insisted that, to other para-athletes, she is just a friend whom they can readily approach for advice.

“Any time somebody has something to ask me, I’m there to give them support, to help them through it,” she said. “They just have to approach me, and I’m very open and friendly about it.”

Emergence of more para-athletes

Yip has been particularly heartened by the emergence of more para-athletes, which she believes will stand the Republic in good stead ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

At Wednesday’s prize-giving ceremony, a total of $250,000 was award to APG medal winners, who brought home a record haul of three golds, two silvers and five bronzes.

“This shows that our team is getting stronger. That’s really heartening and it’s not just one sport that is delivering medals. We are winning across various sports,” she said.

“Seeing this gives me a lot of hope for the future. We need a bigger base of para-athletes and I hope through all this awareness, more people will start doing sports and engage in an active lifestyle.”

As for Yip herself, she continues to be surprised by her own success, even though she has now won gold in every major multi-sport para Games: at the Asean Para Games, the Paralympics and now the Asian Para Games.

“The past few editions, there weren’t enough S2 swimmers, so I had to swim in the S5 category, and I barely made the finals,” she said. “I was so surprised to win this year.”

“But it shows that I’m going in the right direction for Tokyo 2020, and that’s what’s important,” she said.

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