From PE-exempt to world champion: Para archer Nur Syahidah Alim on the importance of opportunity

Once excluded from games at school and among friends, Syahidah’s life changed forever when she picked up a bow and arrow.

  • 12 Jul 2023

Eyes on the prize: Syahidah draws her bow. Photo credit: SDSC

Nur Syahidah Alim was born with diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy marked by stiff lower limbs and having difficulty walking or standing for extended periods of time. 

That hasn't stopped her from becoming a world champion para archer and multiple gold medalist, who since 2015 has represented Singapore at the ASEAN PARA GAMES, 2016's Rio Paralympic Games, the World Archery Para Championships, and soon, 2024's Paris Paralympic Games.

Syahidah's career as a high-performance athlete was not always written in the stars, however. Like many para athletes, Syahidah had to overcome stigma to pursue her passion for sports.

Finding opportunity through adversity

Despite her parents raising her identically to her non-disabled siblings, at school Syahidah encountered bullying and was frozen out of activities because of her diplegia.

Classmates told her she would be a weak link if allowed to join their teams during playtime. A swimming coach at a public pool initially refused to teach her (her mother’s  relentless insistence changed his mind). She was exempted from physical education (PE) classes throughout secondary school and felt left out.

It was only when she was 18 and attended an expo held by the Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC) that she discovered a newfound love for sports and her talent in archery. 

People with disabilities deserve to lead dignified and independent lives.

Syahidah on the podium at the Para Archery European Cup in May 2023. Credit: SDSC

Throughout the years, she has witnessed a welcome shift towards a more inclusive sporting culture, in which accessible facilities are a key factor. The gym at Lengkok Bahru’s Enabling Village, for example, guarantees ample space, ramps, and even ground between stations. “It's reassuring that I won't slip or trip while exercising,” she added.

Syahidah in action at the Taoyuan Archery Asia Cup (Stage I) 2023. Photo credit: Archery Singapore

Reaching her full potential

Much of this awareness-raising and enabling work is thanks to the efforts of organisations like Sport Singapore (SportSG), where she previously worked as part of the strategy team. 

"At SportSG we oversaw national plans and policies to make sports more accessible to all members of the public,” she recalls, “I really grew to appreciate how impactful sports can be at the individual, community, and societal levels.”

Apart from infrastructure, government bodies like SDSC and SportSG offer dedicated sports pathways to encourage potential athletes to train and join national teams. Which is precisely what Syahidah did after becoming a proficient shooter.

Now a spexScholarship recipient, Syahidah trains full-time for Team Singapore. “It has been an amazing journey,” she says, “I can see my skills grow with support and cutting-edge sports science solutions from my team at Singapore Sport Institute (SSI).” 

TeamSG para archer Syahidah is gearing up for the 2024 Paris Paralympic Games. Photo credit: SNPC

"Bringing Singapore along" for competitions

Syahidah is keenly aware of what her gold medals and world championship titles represent beyond individual performance: “I bring the nation along with me when I compete overseas, so I'm always motivated to do my best to set new milestones and touch hearts.”

She is also blazing trails for other athletes to follow. On top of her regular para competitions, Syahidah has recently joined her non-disabled teammates at the Archery Asia Cup and Archery World Cup’s open events. The adaptiveness of the sport allows archers with disabilities to shoot while seated, with little else differentiating it from archery for non-disabled people.

As Syahidah has demonstrated, anyone can play sports if they set their heart on it. When asked for advice on being afraid to pick up a new sport as a hobby, her response is refreshingly and characteristically straightforward: “Just be brave and have fun. When your mindset is right, good outcomes will follow."