Tomorrow is Hari Sukan Negara. In our fourth of four stories, celebrates how participating in sports keeps Malaysians healthy and fit. More importantly, sports also brings communities closer, breaks down barriers and encourages the pursuit of excellence. 

It takes about an hour for Khalijah Ismail to drive her son from their home in Junjung, Kedah to the Seberang Jaya public pool in Penang for his swimming lessons every Tuesday and Thursday.

But she does not mind because 11-year-old Nur Faris is training to be his best at what he loves most under a programme run by the Penang Sports and Recreation Association for the Disabled (Pesrom).

Faris was born with deformed hips and limbs, and moves about on a skate board. But in the pool, he glides effortlessly with strong graceful strokes.

Khalijah was most relieved when Faris started training under his coaches because he no longer pesters her to take him to a recreational water park. His affinity with water and swimming are finally being honed for competitive swimming and he trains six times a week. Faris also trains under another coach in Bukit Mertajam.

“My son has always loved the water. The coaches tell me Faris has potential and should be trained for competitions,” says the proud mother who chats amicably with the other parents while their children train under coach Teoh Chee Seng.

Coach Teoh Chee Seng (left) who has been training special needs children for 20 years has faith in Muhammad Nur Faris Ghazali to excel in competitive swimming. - ASRI ABDUL GHANI/The Star

Coach Teoh Chee Seng (left) who has been training special needs children for 20 years has faith in Muhammad Nur Faris Ghazali to excel in competitive swimming.

Teacher Rashidah Mat Saad who coordinates the swimming classes says she has witnessed how each student has benefitted from the opportunity to participate in a sport.

There are usually eight to a dozen children of various ages, size and abilities during the training sessions. Not all took to the water easily like Faris. For some of these disabled children, overcoming their anxieties and getting into the pool is an important milestones. For others, gaining the motor coordination to float and learn a stroke would take months and even years.

But the students, coach, teachers and parents persist and persevere because these weekly swimming sessions are important for their physical, mental and emotional development.

Rashidah pays tribute to Teoh because he has patiently taught special needs students since the swimming programme was started in 1996 by the Butterworth Lifesaving Society. There are now 26 students under this programme, and that includes those who have not mastered their swimming technique.

“Every child is different and we look for different ways to teach them how to swim. As long as their parents bring them to the pool, I will find a way to help them learn,” says Teoh who is one of the most experienced special needs swimming coach in Penang.

Anyone with special needs can join the swimming classes, but Rashidah and Teoh are now also keen to train young special needs children to be athletes.

Six of Teoh’s students took part in the recent Paralympiad Games, the disabled athletes’ Sukma Games in Sarawak.

They are proud of 20-year-old Yoong Chung Wei who won the Best Male Athlete Award at the Paralympiad Games for winning four gold medals and setting two new games records in the swimming event for he started his training at the Seberang Jaya swimming pool.

Our athletes’ success at the Rio Paralympics has been most inspiring; Rashidah and Teoh have big dreams and hopes for their students.