Team Singapore clinched a bronze at the BISFED 2017 Asia and Oceania Championships this May in Hong Kong.

The team comprised Nurulasyigah binte Mohammad Taha (32), Toh Sze Ning (23), and Faye Lim (19). The bronze is in the BC3 category, for players with limited motor function on all four limbs and use assistive devices, such as ramps, to release the ball. Nurul is the team captain.

Nurul and Sze Ning are Boccia veterans, ranked fourth as a pair at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. They have won a gold medal in at the 2014 ASEAN Para Games, and a silver in 2015. Individually, Sze Ning is ranked 17th in the world, while Nurul is ranked 22nd. Nurul was born with spinal muscular atrophy, while Sze Ning has cerebral palsy.

For Faye, the youngest team member, the Hong Kong championship is only her third international match. Faye’s first overseas match was when she was 14, at the 2013 Asian Youth Para Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Said Faye’s father, Boon Ghee, on her behalf, (Faye has cerebral palsy and is non-verbal) “It was eye-opening. It’s only the second time she’s competing, so it was a learning [experience] for both of us.”

The team is happy and relieved after their bronze win. Nurul said, “I think it reflects on our teamwork, how we are willing to like fight all the way to the end although we lost the semi-finals previously.”

A large community

Boccia is a Paralympic ball sport. The word “Boccia” is derived from the Italian word which means “to bowl”. It can be played individually, in pairs, or in teams. The sport was originally developed for people with cerebral palsy, but it has since included people with other disabilities which affect their motor functions.

Infographic explaining the game of Boccia. Each player has 6 red or blue balls. The players take turn in throwing or rolling the ball as close as possible to the white target ball called the jack. One point is awarded to the team for each ball that is closer to the jack than the opponent team’s closest ball. Scores are tallied after all players throw their respective 6 balls. In order to win, the team must obtain the highest score.

Source: (MyActiveSG)

Like in other sports, international matches are important for Boccia, not just because it hones players’ skills, but it also allows them to meet others with similar needs. Said Sze Ning, “I enjoy going to competitions to meet other people.”

Boon Ghee, Faye’s father, agreed that it is not just a game. “Boccia is a family thing. You don’t just play, go for competitions. It’s more of how we get together and train. That’s why she enjoyed Boccia and want to continue to excel. When she comes to Boccia she enjoys the friendship and the fellowship there.”

Nurul, the only team member among the three who is not a full-time player, also views Boccia as a tight-knit family. “The team behind the three of us is actually really huge. It’s not just the coach, not just our respective sports assistants, but also all the volunteers who come down and help up with our training. Because if there is no one to help us, we can’t even release the ball. So I think ultimately Boccia really rallies the community together.”

“I think a lot of people have this misconception that Boccia is very boring,” said Nurul. “Wait until they try”.

The next challenge

The Boccia team is already training for the next Paralympic Games. Said Nurul, “The journey is still very far and very long. Right now we have our sights on Tokyo 2020.”

The team trains every Saturday at Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore, where much of their focus is on game simulations, or exercises that prepare them for specific plays by opponents. Leading up to major competitions, players have two additional weekday trainings.