Deaf rowers still able to make waves

Mr Ong, who was born deaf and is now an executive officer at the Singapore Association for the Deaf (SADeaf), was at Kallang Riverside Park on Saturday to prove that point.

He and four other members of the association rowed a dragon boat for 9km, alongside 15 other volunteers from the dragon boating community.

That’s not all. He and his team are now scheduled to compete in the 8th Club Crew World Championships, one of the most prestigious dragon boating competitions in the world, in Hong Kong, in July.

The event on Saturday was held in conjunction with the formal launch of Team Youth Without Borders, a dragon boating team comprising both disabled and able-bodied paddlers.

The team is the brainchild of Mr Ryan Ng, 21, a polytechnic graduate who is waiting to be enlisted for National Service.

He told The New Paper that he came up with the idea to create a para dragon boat team last July.


He had read an article on citizen journalism website Stomp about an allied educator at a mainstream boys’ primary school making fun of a special needs student on Facebook. “I felt upset, and I decided to do something for the disabled,” said Mr Ng, who took part in last October’s Now You Can Youth Leadership Series, a competition organised with Starhub’s support.

Competing against 10 other projects in the Helping Humans category, Mr Ng’s team took the top prize of $2,000.

He used the money to rent dragon boats for training sessions, which can cost between $30and $200 per boat.

But the sessions would not have come to pass if not for Mr Ong.

Mr Ong, who is in charge of programme and volunteer coordination for SADeaf, was the first to reply to Mr Ng after he sent out e-mails to various societies for the handicapped in February, asking if they were interested in dragon boating.

Speaking through a sign language interpreter, Mr Ong said: “I thought it was a good chance for the deaf community to mingle with the hearing community.

“I don’t want the deaf to feel isolated. That’s why I contacted Ryan, for I wanted the deaf and the hearing to participate in something together.”

Training sessions began on March 5, with about five deaf rowers, and Mr Ong was initially there only to oversee the training.

But he decided to take part in his first training session on Friday afternoon in preparation for the event the following day.

The organisers had originally planned to paddle for 10km, Singapore’s longest competitive distance for dragon boating.

But the team only managed to cover 9km as the rest of the original route wasbeing used for another event, said Mr Ng.

“This is my first time, so 9km or 10km would be equally tough and exhausting,” said Mr Ong, who took one hour to clear the distance with his team.

Mr Ng said the greatest challenge for the deaf rowers was communication because dragon boating is a vocal sport.

To communicate, the deaf rowers would feel the vibrations from the drum, use sign language and would take the visual cues from the able-bodied rowers.

Hong Kong championships

After Kallang River, Mr Ong and the rest of Team Youth Without Borders are now looking forward to rowing in Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong for the 8th Club Crew World Championships.

The team roster for the championship will only be finalised at the end of this month after selection trials are conducted, said Mr Ng.

This year will be the first time the Championships have opened an Adaptive Paddlers category for the disabled.

Para dragon boat teams around the world will also be allowed to compete with six disabled and four able-bodied paddlers per boat, while the previous rule allowed only four disabledand six able-bodied paddlers.

This change resulted from Mr Ng’s talks with the International Dragon Boat Federation and the chairman of the Hong Kong DragonBoat Association.

Mr Ng’s efforts caught the attention of StarHub, and the telco is giving $26,000 to sponsor the team in Hong Kong.

Said StarHub spokesman Adam Reutens- Tan: “We believe that Ryan’s team has empowered youth to empower other people.

“By effecting change on the international level, Ryan has also empowered people all around the world to take part. It is his spirit and determination that won us over.”

This article was first published in The New Paper.