How lawn bowling reignited this senior's love for sports

Meet Singapore’s oldest para-athlete, Mahendran Pasupathy, a visually impaired lawn bowler. At 76, he recently made his debut at the Hangzhou Asian Para Games 2023 held in China in October 2023. Through his remarkable achievements, Mahendran’s story proves it is possible to rise above your own limits.

  • 29 Nov 2023
Mahendran Pasupathy, a visually impaired lawn bowler, hopes to inspire more love for this inclusive sport.

Mahendran Pasupathy, a visually impaired lawn bowler, hopes to inspire more love for this inclusive sport.

Competing on the international stage is no small feat. Yet lawn bowler Mahendran has managed to defy the odds. He was among 16 debutants in the 31-member contingent, and recently competed in the 4th Asian Para Games in Hangzhou.

A life-changing turn of events

Growing up, Mahendran had always been an avid sportsman.

In his teens, Mahendran was a school sprinter who regularly competed in athletic meets. He also enjoyed playing sports like badminton, hockey and cricket.

When he was 18, he served with the Singapore Police Force. But Mahendran began to sense something was amiss when his vision started to deteriorate in his thirties. He found it difficult to see objects clearly from a distance, or read messages on his phone.

Living with his disability

For the next 40 years, Mahendran learned to adapt to a new way of life.

Going about his daily life was not a problem, but Mahendran found it hard to play his beloved sports. He could no longer see when the ball or the shuttlecock was coming. When he tried to execute a smash, the shuttlecock would land on his head. He felt like he was “making a fool of himself.”

Over time, he eventually had to give up on team-based or competitive sporting activities.

When you’re a sportsman, and you feel your eyesight is hindering your movement towards your targets, you tend to feel lost. Sometimes I felt I had nothing more to live for, everything seemed to be gone. But I asked myself what can I do about it? I still have to pull through.

To stay active, Mahendran kept up a regular exercise routine, walking around his estate three to four times a day. This amounted to 30,000 steps, or 20 km broken down in intervals. On other occasions, his wife would ferry him to other parks to exercise.

Finding his way back to sports

Mahendran prepares to roll the bowl.

Mahendran prepares to roll the bowl.

Three years ago, he stumbled upon lawn bowling, after a friend introduced him to the sport. Though he was new to it, Mahendran was intrigued.

Mahendran liked that lawn bowling was a gentle way to get active, and that it involved a lot of walking. He says it’s a sport that keeps him on his toes — a tactical game which involves strategy, precision, concentration and practice. Lawn bowling has since reignited Mahendran’s love for sports.

Visually impaired athletes like Mahendran are assisted by a guide, known as the “eye”. They let him know where the first bowl lands from the jack, so he can make adjustments and play the next shots better.

Initially, Mahendran would play the game on his own, motivated to beat his own record. Later, he began training every Wednesday and Friday with a group of friends who are wheelchair users, at the Kallang ActiveSG Lawn Bowl. Outside of regular training sessions, Mahendran also practises alone daily for up to three hours at Yan Kit Playfield.

Competing on the world stage

As Mahendran became more skilled, he began participating in local and international competitions.

In 2022, he made his international debut at the Asia Bowls Championship for the Disabled in Johor, Malaysia, where he earned a bronze medal. He went on to compete in the Thailand Open Para Lawn Bowls International Championship in Bangkok and achieved a silver medal.

Lawn bowling helps keep Mahendran active and engaged in the community.

Lawn bowling helps keep Mahendran active and engaged in the community.

Playing on unfamiliar turf can be tricky, says Mahendran. He has to throw the bowl a few times to familiarise himself with new grounds. For example, some grounds require wider or narrower throws, while factors like wind strength could affect the speed of the bowl.

Recently, Mahendran participated in his third international competition at the Hangzhou Asian Para Games 2023 — his biggest one to date.

Although he did not win a medal, Mahendran said that he enjoyed the atmosphere, the game, the surroundings, and the delicious food. He made plenty of new friends and even had fans asking for his autograph.

Although I was disappointed that I didn’t play as well as I used to, I was motivated by the encouragement from people around me. They said, ‘Everyone has gone through bad times, and maybe it’s not your day.’ So I told myself I’ll try again and do better next time.

What keeps him going

Throughout this athletic journey, Mahendran says his family has been a pillar of support. Though they don’t play lawn bowling, they never fail to “push him beyond his limits,” he says.

Mahendran’s wife regularly helps him to book the lanes and drives him to training while his 10-year-old grandson celebrates with him when he brings home medals and trophies!

Mahendran with his wife.

Mahendran with his wife.

He also hopes to introduce lawn bowling to the wider community as a truly inclusive sport, noting that anyone - regardless of age or ability - can pick it up.

While many may perceive lawn bowling as an elderly sport, Mahendran has begun to notice that perceptions are changing as more young people join the sport. “I believe that with strength and determination, you can still pick up new sports! Just try,” he says.