Para Games' opening ceremony celebrates the human spirit
Fittingly, the human spirit is feted at the opening ceremony of the Asean Para Games
The arena went pitch black except for a giant video screen that featured shooter Aishah Samad, as filmmaker Bertrand Lee narrated a poem.
The screen then faded, and a single spotlight shone on the 43-year-old standing alone on the stage at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, as she lowered her trusty air rifle, took a bow before moving off at the start of the Asean Para Games opening ceremony last night.
"If I could think of a word other than 'wow' to describe how I feel, I'd use it," said the 2003 South-east Asia (SEA) Games bronze medallist.
"I am truly honoured to be given this opportunity by the organisers, as well as the SDSC (Singapore Disability Sports Council)," said the shooter, who lost all four limbs due to a bacterial infection three years ago.
LIGHT THE FIRE
She was also one of the athletes who was part of the group of torch-bearers, culminating in swimmer Yip Pin Xiu, shuttler Tay Wei Ming and boccia player Aloysius Gan lighting the cauldron that will burn until Wednesday.
"What has happened to me has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I have gotten more than I ever did before. I am proud, I am happy and I am amazed by everything that has happened," added Aishah, who will compete in the SH2 10m air rifle prone event.
The eighth edition of the biennial Games is the biggest in history, with 15 sports being contested.
It was declared open by President Tony Tan Keng Yam last night in front of a sold-out crowd of 6,000.
In her speech, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said: "The Asean Para Games is a celebration of friendship, solidarity and the triumph of the human spirit.
"To all our athletes gathered here tonight, you have overcome challenges in life and shown us that sport is truly without boundaries.
"Your fighting spirit will inspire us to live better through sport, and spur us to face life's challenges with courage."
Asean Para Sports Federation president Zainal Abu Zarin said in his speech: "In the next seven days, we will experience many memorable moments, off and on the field, moments that will inspire and move us all in many ways, and moments that will provide us insights into the true meaning of life.
"Stories of grit, discipline and eventually, triumphs; it starts here tonight in this amazing stadium!"
The 90-minute shindig, helmed by creative director Philip Tan, was inspired and stocked by people with disabilities, who had key roles in both the performances and the backroom staff.
For the first time, the opening ceremony - which comprised five acts - was beamed live on video-streaming website YouTube and free-to-air television here, with hand-signers accompanying emcees Oon Shu An and Terence Tay, as well as speeches by the dignitaries.
Ms Fu summed it all up, when she said: "We celebrate all abilities; we celebrate the indomitable spirit of our para-athletes; we celebrate the extraordinary in each and every one of us."
Sense of pride for torch-bearers
Initially they were nervous, worrying whether they would drop the torch, praying they would not trip or get singed by the flame.
But the fears of Yip Pin Xiu and Tay Wei Ming dissipated as soon as they held the torch of the Asean Para Games.
"I don't feel like it's a personal achievement, it's more like Singapore has achieved this, and I am helping to represent the country in this," said 2008 Paralympic champion swimmer Yip, 23, who was one of the three final torch-bearers who lit the Games cauldron at the Singapore Indoor Stadium last night.
"It is a very different sense of pride I get (lighting the cauldron). Apart from winning medals, I get to represent my country in another way."
She received the torch from para-badminton world champion Tay at the opening gala last night, and the two lit the flame together with 9-year-old boccia player Aloysius Gan, who represents the future of para-sports here.
"They told us about a week ago that we would be the final ones," said Tay, 27. "But it doesn't really matter if we're torch-bearer No. 1 or 2, I am just very happy to be one of them."
The journey of the Para Games torch began yesterday at the Marina Bay Sands event plaza, where Abdul Hayei, 19, from SportCares, lit the flame in a lighting ceremony.
The flame was brought to the Indoor Stadium in a 90-minute, 5.5km relay by Games volunteers and representatives from organisations like the Metta Welfare Association and Touch Community Services.
Among them was Robin Ooi, who was there with his wife and three children, aged between 8 and 13.
Ooi, 39, said: "It is really a chance of a lifetime to carry the flame. We've been volunteering and, during these few days, we've got to know so much more about what these Games are all about when we see them practise.
"It has been amazing.
"It (the torch parade and relay) is a good event that we can participate in, and in 22 years, when we host the Games again, my children will be around my age.
"And then, maybe my son can lead his family into participating as volunteers."