Team Singapore

Dyslexia can't stop BMX racer Mas Ridzwan from winning

BMX racer, 17, overcomes learning difficulty to win Malaysian competitions and SOF-Peter Lim scholarships

National BMX racer Mas Ridzwan Mohammad Ali may seem a shy and soft-spoken boy.

But, once he mounts his bike, he transforms into a tour de force.

His trusted Stay Strong motorcross bike not only became an avenue for the 17-year-old to shine on the track, but also to overcome his diffidence from having dyslexia.

The learning difficulty, which affects Ridzwan's memory, reading and writing abilities, was diagnosed when he was 10.

"I felt down and felt like I was different from everyone else," he told The New Paper, adding that he would feel embarrassed to speak freely.

With extra help from his teachers and coach, Ridzwan discovered that he could grasp concepts best through visual cues.

Thus, national BMX coach Hairul Nazwa invested in an array of equipment such as whiteboards, speedometers, heart rate monitors and video applications on his iPad to communicate better.

"I was not exposed to coaching dyslexic athletes before Ridzwan and I struggled to understand and communicate with him at first," said Hairul, who is also the academy director of the Singapore Cycling Federation.

"He is enthusiastic when it comes to racing and has the drive to want to win.

"He is a very special athlete; if you give him the bike, he can do anything with it."

Aside from breaking down concepts, Hairul also instilled in him the habit of keeping a journal to note down exercises each session, to encourage him to be more independent and accountable for his training.

"Before every session, I will read through the journal to remember… but I don't have to write BMX(-related) skills because I can remember them from muscle memory," said Ridzwan, who was awarded the Sportsboy Meritorious Award last year.

The two-time Malaysian BMX Youth Championship winner in the youth category (15-16 years old) innately excels physically.

He juggled three co-curricular activities when he was in NorthLight School - football, sepak takraw and dance - alongside BMX racing.

Ridzwan, currently a first-year student pursuing a Nitec in Mechanical Technology at the Institute of Technical Education College Central, was introduced to racing when he was nine by his father, a former BMX racer.

SCARED OF HEIGHTS

The pair would cycle at the old Tampines Bike Park, which had the only BMX track in the country before it was demolished in 2014.

Ridzwan recalled: "I was scared of heights as a child. However, my dad helped me overcome the fear."

Hairul had spotted Ridzwan then and approached him to be part of a developmental squad.

He then joined the national set-up three years ago and has since won several youth titles in Malaysia.

His stellar potential saw him win the Singapore Olympic Foundation-Peter Lim scholarship in the Under-18 high performance category last month, for the second year running.

He had also been awarded twice in the secondary category.

The $5,000 boost will help the fan of Dutch BMX racing cyclist Niek Kimmann adapt to training amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has prevented him and his teammates from having their practice sessions at a mini-pump track in Bukit Timah.

He plans to buy a roller, that costs about $300, to convert his bike to train indoors and also join virtual competitions on Zwift, an indoor training app.

"I feel very happy to win the award. I owe it to my father because without him, I would not get into BMX racing... and I am thankful for everything he has done for me," said Ridzwan, who hopes to pursue BMX racing as a profession and represent Singapore in the BMX Europe Championships.

Coach Hairul is as elated but also shared a sense of relief, saying: "The fund is very important for him. It is not just an award but a financial support for his whole family.

"I'm proud of him for his determination and action… and I'm also thankful that his plans can continue to go forward." - Additional reporting by Harshitha Smruthi L Kandakumar

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