Beating the Odds through SwimmingWebmaster
Afflicted by polio at the age of two that caused paralysis of her left leg, Tan Geok Kian has surpassed her physical disability to begin a new career as swimming coach when she was already in her late forties.
Recollecting painful memories from the past, Tan shares, “My left leg lost strength and I needed a caliper to help me walk. Because of this, I never had the chance to participate in any sporting event while I was in school. Family problems also hindered me from furthering my studies after obtaining my STPM (Malaysian Higher School Certificate).”
Doctors told her it was not advisable to participate in any land sport, so swimming became the only sporting option for her. Now at 55, Tan has mastered the skills of swimming, diving and interestingly enough, mermaid swimming – a style that requires special techniques to appear as graceful as a mermaid.
Besides coaching, she also channels her energy and passion in swimming into several local Open Water Swimathons, such as Kapas Marang Swimathon, 113 Triathlon and Ultra Aquathlon.
The 2017 Kapas Marang Swimathon was the most memorable for Tan as there were only two disabled swimmers. “Besides me, the other swimmer was a deaf-mute. It took me four hours to complete the 6.5km journey across the sea from Pulau Kapas to Marang jetty without any swimming equipment. It really was a huge challenge,” she says.
Married with two sons, this Bachelor of Psychology learner is thrilled not only to swim, but also to teach the sport to others. Having picked up coaching skills seven years ago, Tan is proud that among her students are those with special needs.
“I have trained 300 students so far, aged between four and 70. When I first started my career, I was worried about public perception about me. But that was just me overthinking things. It turns out that when I am in the pool, nobody thinks that I am disabled. They only notice when I come out of the water.”
As a coach, Tan starts her days bright and early as her first class begins at 7am. She only stops at 9pm. She soaks in the pool up to five times a day, meeting and coaching students of different levels and backgrounds.
“Most of the time, I’m always rushing from one spot to another because my students come from different places. Lunches only involve eating something light in my car. When it rains, I get a day off, and that’s when I treat myself to a cup of coffee, reading and painting. I also use my free time to search for more information on coaching special-needs students, or watch videos on swimming techniques to upgrade myself.
Tan reveals that due to the pandemic, she has to stop coaching. However, as a wife and mother of two, she is busy taking care of the family. “I also focus on my studies, finishing assignments and most of the time, I draw and paint as I took up art lessons in June last year. So far, I have completed about 200 artworks with oil pastel, soft pastel, watercolour and pencil sketching.”
Life is never perfect but Tan finds life beautiful regardless. She has a wonderful family, a community that supports her and more importantly, she has a career that gives her purpose in life.
By Izyan Diyana Merzuki