A three-time Paralympic champion and world record holder, Yip Pin Xiu has long been seen as a face for disability sports in her home country.
The 27-year-old recently took her influence from the pool to parliament, becoming a Nominated Member of Parliament in Singapore last September. She is the youngest to take up the role since the scheme was introduced in the city-state in 1990, as a means to provide non-partisan views during parliamentary debates.
It is not a role she ever fathomed playing, Yip admitted. But there was just something about being given this stage that drew her to what can be a nerve-wracking part to play.
She said: “In the years that I’ve been swimming, there are two things that I’m happy I’ve done. One is winning medals. The other is I’ve helped create more awareness for Para sports in Singapore.
“People understand it a bit more now and know that it exists, and I hope to be able to continue doing that. So when I was given a platform to do it even better, I took it so that I can help Para sports grow in Singapore.”
An impassioned speech in March – one she was “super duper nervous” about – aptly illustrates this fire in her belly. In it, she called for greater commitment to inclusive sports in Singapore, as well as better integration between able-bodied and Para sports. Her challenge to lawmakers: do not be stumbled by looking at one’s disability before considering ability.
Her passion stems from the challenges that she has personally faced and tried to overcome, as one of the pioneers of Para sports in Singapore.
“I don’t see myself as a role model,” said Yip, who finished the World Series in her home city with a silver in the women’s 50m backstroke on Sunday night.
“What I feel is a responsibility to give back to society, to continue advocating for Para sports, and help (it) grow. Sports has given me so much in life. I don’t only want to give back to the Para community. I do hope to see a Singapore where everyone lives a more active and healthier lifestyle.”
Para sports has earned much greater visibility in Singapore over the past decade, since Yip became the island’s first Paralympic champion at the Beijing 2008 Games. She, together with compatriot and fellow Paralympic medallist Theresa Goh, are among the country’s most recognisable athletes.
Said Yip: “When I first started in 2008, people didn’t really know that there was such a thing as the Paralympics. Now we’ve reached this point where there are more athletes, more achievements being made.
“It’s very healthy growth. It’s not super fast, but it’s slow and steady and one day we’ll get where we want to be. I don’t know where is the place that we want to be, but it’s always progress.”
Yip is targeting a fourth Paralympics at the Tokyo Games in 2020, in the hopes that a Games held in Asia will mean the ability to compete with family in the stands.
“It’s been a while since a (Paralympic) Games has been so close to home. It’ll be really special to have my family there supporting me,” said Yip, who is working with a new coach.
“I’m preparing with a different set of challenges this time, and I think there’s a lot more work (to be done) leading up to Tokyo. I’m going in really hopeful.”