Disability is no hurdle for para-athlete Adelia Naomi Yokoyama, as she overcame all odds to emerge victorious at the 2017 Deaflympics.

To say that Adelia Naomi Yokoyama is an inspiration would be an understatement. Despite being born deaf, she never lets her hearing impairment deter her from achieving her dreams. Her hard work paid off – at the recent Deaflympics, the 18-year-old trailblazer made history by bagging Singapore’s first ever gold medal in the bowling women’s masters event. Fresh off her record-breaking win, we caught up with the young bowling champ to learn how she overcomes adversity, what drives her and more.

Congratulations on clinching the gold medal at the Deaflympics! How does it feel to set a new record for Singapore?
I am truly overjoyed! It’s hard to describe the feeling in words as I never expected to return with a gold medal, much less set a new record. Winning gold for Singapore has always been my dream from the moment I was selected to represent our country for the Deaflympics. I don’t have much experience competing internationally, but I trained intensively to build my stamina and mental toughness with the support of the Deaf Sports Association.

Deaflympics

When did you first discover your passion for bowling?
I first discovered it around the age of eight when I joined my sister and her friends for a game of bowling. It was then that I decided to take it up as a CCA in school and chose to pursue the sport further as I was selected to be on the school team and started participating in competitions.

With sisters Natasha and Yukie being athletes in their own right, do you feel ever feel pressured to live up to expectations?
I do feel pressured to perform well, especially since both of them have represented Singapore in prestigious events and have a good track record in their respective disciplines. Natasha finished 5th at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games, while Yukie has won multiple medals and is a world champion! For me, I never won any major competitions prior to the Deaflympics thus I do feel pressured to an extent, but it’s a healthy amount which serves as a driving force for me.

As a current student at PSB Academy, how do you balance your time between school and training?
It was manageable as I only had a few hours of school to attend each day, coupled with training three times a week. The real challenge came when the Deaflympics drew closer, marking a spike in my training sessions. At the same time, I also enrolled for three new modules before I flew off to Turkey for the competition. Catching up was tough as I missed three weeks of school, but thankfully, the journey was made less exhausting through PSB Academy’s generosity in accommodating to my schedule.

Since embarking on this journey, what has been the most memorable moment thus far?
The opportunity of participating in the Deaflympics! Beyond the competition and the win, the bonds that I’ve forged with my team is a reward in itself. We even became more well-versed in sign language while training together. In particular, this experience has helped me realise the importance of working closely with a coach, as Coach Francis made a huge impact on my progress as an athlete by encouraging and believing in me. When a coach and an athlete have great faith in each other, their ability to communicate with one another becomes unrivalled. Thus, I am so thankful for Coach Francis.

We can’t begin to imagine the challenges you deal with everyday with your hearing impairment, especially as a sportswoman. What keeps you motivated?
The journey definitely had its bumps, but I’ve learnt to cope with stress thanks to my loved ones. My family has given me the best support in everything, and they truly inspire me to become a better person and succeed in life. Growing up, I was also given speech therapy and specialised help for my hearing impairment, such that I’m able to communicate well with the people I meet. Today, I have no difficulties interacting with others and in fact, I would say that I’m a social butterfly!

Deaflympics

What’s a misconception people have about para-athletes that you would like to set straight?
They tend to think that we are different from ‘normal people’ or that we are unable to live life to the fullest. This cannot be further from the truth as every individual is different, special and unique. If a hearing impaired person like me can succeed, so can everyone else. I want to encourage and motivate people to chase their dreams instead of erring on the side of caution. Nothing is impossible!

Moving forward, what are your goals for 2018?
Since I haven’t had much experience participating in international bowling competitions, I plan to take part in as many as possible to gain more exposure. I hope to earn a new personal best score for the upcoming competitions, particularly for the ASEAN Deaf Games which will be held in December. I also aim to get into the National Youth Squad in 2018.

This article was adapted from Vol.30 Issue 1 issue of Teenage.

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