Paralympian can't wait to get back in the saddle for Rio
S'pore woman qualified for Paralympic Games in Rio, but had to stop riding for 3 months after fall from horse
It was meant to be the pinnacle of her sports career.
Miss Gemma Foo, 20, one of Singapore's para-equestrians, was to compete in September's Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
But on March 29, while in Cologne, Germany, and training for a competition, the horse that Miss Foo was on was startled by a loud noise and bolted, leaving her badly injured.
Neither Miss Foo, who has cerebral palsy, nor her mother Madam Jacqueline Lim, 51, knows what the noise was.
"Horses are very sensitive. When we train, we require complete silence," she told The New Paper at her home in the Thomson area.
The horse, Cassis Royal, was an 11-year-oldand Miss Foo's regular ride and she had been thrown from her horse before. Usually, she just needs to sit it out to get her strength back. But this time was different.
Madam Lim saw that her daughter could not move and that her lips had turned very pale. When she noticed a bulge at her abdomen, Madam Lim called for an ambulance.
"The paramedics treated it like a trauma case and completely immobolised her," said Madam Lim.
The fall had ruptured her spleen and blood was leaking into her abdomen. Upon being rushed to hospital, she was operated on and sent to the intensive care unit for two days.
She was warded for two weeks in the hospital in Porz, Cologne, before returning to Singapore.
Madam Lim, a part-time yoga teacher, said that a doctor told her that "if we came in one day later, it'd have been too late".
"It was so shocking and traumatic," said Miss Foo.
Miss Foo was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegia, the most severe form of cerebral palsy, when she was born prematurely.
She took up riding as a form of therapy when she was eight and was picked by national coach, Volker Eubel, to join the national equestrian team when she was 14.
Cassis Royal is specially trained to suit Miss Foo's needs and she treats it like a confidant.
An accomplished rider, she clinched the top position in two of three dressage events during the Mannheim Para-Equestrian Championships in Germany in 2012.
She later represented Singapore in the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
It was the first time an Asian para-equestrian team had taken part in the Games. But the results saw her being placed outside the top 10 of her individual dressage events.
She continued to improve and her results from 2015 secured her a place in this year's Rio Games.
But now, the possibility of getting her best results hangs in the balance.
Her doctor had advised her to refrain from riding for three months.
She plans to return to Germany this month to try riding again. But it remains to be seen if the wound has healed enough.
Madam Lim said: "People spend four years training for the Games. For us, it's a huge step backwards."
Miss Foo's positivity still shines through during this trying period.
She said: "It was definitely a setback from what we've trained for for so long, but we can't foresee accidents."
She admitted that it would be difficult to regain her feel for riding again, but she is excited at the prospect of getting back in the saddle.
"It is mind over body," she said. "If you believe you can achieve, you can do it."
Miss Foo is thankful that her family is behind her. "Since day one, they have been supportive of everything I do. My family understands the commitment of this sport."
Outside of riding, she is pursuing a diploma in mass communications at the Management Development Institute of Singapore
She aspires to be a writer and often writes online book reviews.
When Miss Foo is finally reunited with Cassis Royal, she knows she will have to train hard to make up for lost time.
But she just wants to do her best and enjoy herself.
MAKING A CHAMPION
When Madam Lim brought her second child home, she did not know what to expect.
Gemma Foo was born prematurely at 24 weeks and weighed only 580g.
She was only ready to be taken home after four months in hospital, and doctors warned Madam Lim that her daughter might “appear stiff”.
“You couldn’t bend her,” said Madam Lim. “I had to tuck her legs and shoulders in before I could carry her.”
Miss Foo was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and it affected all four limbs.
She was also unable to feed properly. Madam Lim had to pat her back for over an hour until she burped to prevent her from throwing up.
Looking back, Madam Lim said: “It was harder than bringing up twins or triplets.”
Yet, she never once gave up on her daughter.
She accompanied Foo for every physiotherapy session and installed equipment around their home so that Gemma could continue with her exercises at home.
When physiotherapy was not working, she did her own research.
Madam Lim remembers handmaking hundreds of flashcards in the wee hours every day for her daughter.
“I would cut up picture books, and the words had to be a certain font and size,” she added.
Now, her flexible work schedule as a part time yoga teacher allows her to accompany Miss Foo when she goes to Germany for training four times a year.
She is also the one who attends every single competition her daughter is taking part in.
“She has really come a long way,” said Madam Lim. “It is reassuring to see her being more than able right now.”