※The article has been published in Toyota Global Newsroom on February 14, 2019.
When Singaporean para swimmer Toh Wei Soong was just two years old, he was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a chronic condition that restricts the use of his legs. There is no known cure for transverse myelitis. No longer able to run and play like he used to, Wei Soong ventured into the competitive world of swimming when he was 13. Since then, he has bagged an impressive tally of medals – including a bronze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and two golds in the 2018 Asian Para Games.
“I enjoy the freedom I get when I am underwater,” he says. “Being able to move about without obstacle is why I love swimming.”
Building a foundation for greatness
Wei Soong’s journey as a competitive swimmer has not been easy. Juggling his swimming and academic commitments has been particularly tough, especially at the start of his international competitive career. He recounts how he suffered for several months to balance the stress from school whilst struggling to maintain his equilibrium ability in the pool. But it got better, he says.
“It always gets better. You have to plant your feet and weather the storm and the weight of what life throws at you because you will get past this struggle and be better for it.”
He thanks his parents for their support: “When I had an interest, they tried it; when I had an ambition, they fed it; and when I had a dream, they stayed with me all the way.”
Their efforts have paid off – their son is soon to be a student at the National University of Singapore. Toh also credits his coach, Ang Peng Siong, for being his hero and role model; and his teammates for motivating him to improve and for always having his back in “this crazy sport”.
As for what propels him to continue swimming, he says, “You become engaged with the racing and the act in the fury and you get it, remember it, and you can never have enough of it.” He admits that being a competitive swimmer can be tiring, but it’s a choice he made and something he will remain true to.
Starting his Impossible and inspiring others in the process
Key to Wei Soong’s success is his tenacious drive to achieve the impossible and to “overcome himself”, something that he hopes can be an inspiration to other young people.
“Medal positions are wonderful and representing your country is an honor, but real self-fulfillment comes from performing your best, from seeing the hours pay off and knowing that you have given your all,” he says.
A strong believer that nothing is impossible for those who choose to try, he is one of 12 athletes in Asia chosen by Toyota to champion Start Your Impossible, an initiative that marks Toyota’s commitment to provide freedom of mobility for all.
For Wei Soong, the idea of ‘mobility for all’ resonates in particular with him, as he feels that it offers a promise of hope that everyone has a chance to improve. In his partnership with Toyota, he will be championing “Equality of Opportunity”, working with the Singapore Disability Sports Council as a motivational speaker in their joint school outreach program to encourage youths, especially those with disabilities, to pursue their sporting dreams and to be unafraid to bravely challenge the impossible.
Wei Soong commented on his activities, “I want to give them the hope that nothing is impossible, and that their dreams do not exist impossibly in that distant country called dreams, but that if we start today, then there is hope in that nearer country called tomorrow.”
For someone as accomplished as he is, Wei Soong is quietly modest and unassuming.
“I must always remind myself why I am here, and that there are other things left to do and that today there is still time to do them.”
Keeping his eyes on Tokyo 2020
Keeping himself motivated by having long-term goals in place, Wei Soong’s next challenge is the World Para Swimming Championships in Kuching, Malaysia, in July 2019. But his ultimate ambition is to win a gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, a dream he’s had for a long time. He acknowledges that competition will be fierce, but says he’s looking forward to it. “If you are willing to beat someone, you must be willing to lose to someone. Only with opponents can you make yourself stronger.”
Get ready to join us as we cheer Wei Soong on as he competes for Singapore at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games!