Singapore

How S R Nathan helped a Paralympian get a new wheelchair

She needed a new racing wheelchair to compete in the Rio Paralympics, but could not afford one.

Desperate to fulfil her dreams, she turned to former president S R Nathan for help last year.

Thanks to him, para-athlete Norsilawati Sa'at, 39, will be a wheelchair racer in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, next month.

In 2001, a car accident left Miss Norsilawati with tetraplegia, a form of paralysis that caused her to lose the use of her legs.

Despite that, she trained hard and became a wheelchair racer.

But her dreams of Paralympics glory hit a roadblock early last year when she could not afford a new racing wheelchair.

Her coach, Mr Jaffa Salleh, who is in his 40s, told The New Paper that her previous racer was a decade old and not suitable for professional racing.

"It was absolutely made for novices," he said.

They tried to raise money for a new racer, which typically costs about $5,000, but by March last year, they could raise only 60 per cent of the required amount.

In desperation, Miss Norsilawati wrote to Mr Nathan for help.

Mr Jaffa said: "It was a long shot. We didn't think that he would reply. After all, he was the former president and would probably have been busy with other matters.

"To our surprise, he replied that he would try his best to help. But he also said it might take some time because he was ill."

CHEQUE

Two weeks later, they received another letter from him. Inside was a cheque from one of his close friends, Dr R. Theyvendran, who donated the remaining cost of the wheelchair.

"Norsilawati was overjoyed when she saw his reply. We purchased the chair just in time for her to get used to it and prepare for international competitions," Mr Jaffa said.

Earlier this year, Miss Norsilawati raced in the new wheelchair and clocked 27.20sec in the Women's 100m-T52 at the IPC Athletics Grand Prix in Beijing, earning her a place at the Rio Paralympics.

Mr Jaffa said they were sad to learn of Mr Nathan's passing.

"We had hoped he could see Norsilawati use the racer at the Paralympics," he said.

Miss Norsilawati paid her last respects to Mr Nathan in his home in Ceylon Road yesterday.

"I am grateful for his kindness and willingness to help. He wrote back to me despite being unwell," she said.

"I regret that I didn't manage to thank him personally, but I'm glad that I was able to let his family know of his good deed when I visited them."

The Straits Times reported yesterday that Mr Nathan often helped others without claiming credit for it.

He helped a group of Malay students fund their overseas education by finding donors for them, looked out for newspaper reports about the underprivileged so he could get help for them, and as a mid-level civil servant, stood up to his superior to save a man's job.

Mr Nathan also looked out for those with special needs.

He called Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean during the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak to remind him about thermometers for special needs children.

DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam said Mr Nathan would always make a U-turn to greet someone in a wheelchair.

Undergrad Shalom Lim, 20, saw this for himself.

He was born with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a progressively degenerative muscle disease that left him needing a wheelchair. He spoke to Mr Nathan on at least three occasions, and remembers how easy it was to speak to him.

"He had a very kind and caring attitude towards people, was always approachable and would ask Singaporeans how they were doing regardless of their background," he said.

"It's sad that our country has lost a man who truly epitomised the Singapore spirit.

"His life has shown all Singaporeans that we can achieve great things no matter our background and circumstances, as long as we work hard in what we do.

"His warmth and compassion won't be forgotten."

WHERE TO PAY LAST RESPECTS

The body of the late Mr S R Nathan will lie in state at Parliament House today from 10am to 10pm for members of the public to pay their last respects.

The public is encouraged to use public transport and proceed on foot to join the queue to Parliament House at the Padang via Saint Andrew's Road.

Tomorrow, members of the diplomatic corps and other officials may pay their last respects from 9am to noon.

A State Funeral Service for Mr Nathan will be held at 4pm tomorrow at the NUS University Cultural Centre.

It will be attended by Mr Nathan's family, friends and former colleagues, the President, Cabinet Ministers, MPs, civil servants and Singaporeans from all walks of life.

The service will be followed by a private cremation at Mandai Crematorium.

Condolence boards will be available at the Istana for those who wish to pen tributes to Mr Nathan. Condolence books will also be opened at all overseas missions.

The public can offer condolences and share memories of Mr Nathan at the official website www.remembering.sg/srnathan or the Remembering S R Nathan Facebook page at www.facebook.com/RememberingSRNathan

If you have queries, you can call the hotline on 6336-1166, or visit the official website or Facebook page for more details.

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