2024 Paralympics? Bring it on, says 20-year-old rider with cerebral palsy
SINGAPORE: Under the watchful eye of her trainer, 20-year-old Alina Seow guided her horse with practiced ease, rounding the training pen again and again.
They were practicing their walk, a lighter training than usual due to Alina’s recent knee injury.
As a rider with cerebral palsy, Alina faces more obstacles than able-bodied riders.
For one, she has more trouble balancing on her horse and requires a special saddle to help her sit tight. She also uses two thin whips to direct her horse, instead of her legs, like how able-bodied riders would.
But she is not daunted.
Alina is able to hold her own even when competing with able-bodied riders. She competed in a horse show at the Selangor Turf Club back in 2013.
“They told me to be careful, because it’s not (competing with riders with disabilities). And then I went there (and competed) in two categories that they specially included for me,” she said, describing the competition.
While she did not achieve a personal best at that competition, it was still an immensely satisfying experience for her.
A TALENTED AND DETERMINED RIDER
It was a magazine article about Laurentia Tan, a Singaporean Paralympian with cerebral palsy, which inspired 10-year-old Alina to take up the sport.
“I was telling my mum about (the article), and I was like, if you can find me a training area then I will go and train,” she said.
Initially, Alina was doing therapeutic riding at Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) Singapore before being “picked” by her current trainer, Ms Jessamine Ihrcke, 37, to train individually.
“We picked out some riders (from group lessons) to be trained individually because of either their determination, potential, dedication and talent, and that’s the things that Alina definitely displayed, especially determination,” said Ms Ihrcke.
“So it was one of those that I looked at and I thought, okay, she definitely wants to proceed and do well. And I wasn’t wrong so far!” she added.
This determination shines through when Alina talks about her long experience working with different kinds of horses.
“I’ve been thrown quite a number of times from the horse,” she said nonchalantly.
“Usually my trainer (will) ask me, can I go back on? Whether my body aches or (not), I’ll just say I can.”
She recalled an incident where her arm bled after she fell from her horse.
Even with her mother’s pleas for her to stop, Alina decided to get back on her horse and continue, to avoid disrupting the group lesson.
To Alina, persistence is key when it comes to riding horses.
“You must have the mentality - You got thrown off? Never mind, just get on again,” she said.
“Even school or training, (I must give my all). Even if I train until I cannot tahan… I’ll say I can go on. So my trainer has to tell me when I have to stop, if not I wouldn’t stop,” she added.
‘I CAN GO FASTER THAN HUMANS’
Alina’s love affair with horses began from the moment she started riding.
Her current horse, D’Artagnan - or Dart for short - is a chestnut-coloured senior horse, almost as old as Alina herself. They have been working together for several months.
“He’s very patient… After I got used to him, I found that he’s actually quite cute and handsome. He’s very calm to a new rider (and doesn’t) suddenly bolt,” said Alina.
Her favourite part about riding is when she gets to trot her horse.
“When I trot, I can go faster than humans. When you trot past someone, it’s like, yes I finally can outrun you kind of thing. Because in my normal life, I can’t run,” she said.
It is the feeling of being able to run on four legs instead of two that she loves, she added.
Her love for horses extends well beyond her riding lesson.
“Anything related to horses, you call me, I’ll go. Everything about horses, (my friends) will send me. My birthday present is always horse-related,” she said.
Although she initially hoped to take part in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, Alina’s dreams were frustrated by the expenses involved in getting to the Games.
"It's a funding issue," said Ms Ihrcke, adding that without immediate funding, it would be impossible for them to participate in the 2020 Games.
Time is also another issue for Alina.
“First I will have to train under the national coach, (and then) I have to lease a horse. (Then I) have to train with that horse to get our harmony there. And then I have to fly to and fro,” she said.
There is also the cost of flying the horse itself to Tokyo, as the rules of the Paralympics state that the rider has to qualify on the same horse that they are competing on.
Nevertheless, Alina still hopes to be able to participate in the next Paralympics, which will be held in the summer of 2024 in Paris.
“Whenever I cannot go for the Paralympics, I will (aim) for the next Paralympics… In our sport, there’s no age limit, so you can be 70 and you can (still compete),” she said.
But of course, she hopes to be able to get there before she turns 70, she added.
As for her chances of getting to the Paralympics, Alina remains optimistic:
“My chances? I think I will just do my usual. Be determined and train until you drop. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to go there.”
Alina is a beneficiary of the Mediacorp Enable Fund (MEF), a charity fund by Mediacorp and SG Enable that aims to build a society where persons with disabilities are recognised for their abilities and lead full and socially integrated lives. Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong is its patron.