By Stefanus Ian/Red Sports

The team has grown from its initial group of four to 22 members today with 17 deaf paddlers. (Photo 1 by Elaine Teo. Courtesy of Ryan Ng)


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As Alfred Yeo and his teammates raised their paddles and waited for the start of their race, their eyes were transfixed on their drummer. They needed to, because all of them are deaf.

The Deaf Dragons, who finished fourth in the community invitational final at the 2013 DBS Marina Regatta, made history by fielding the first all-deaf dragon boat crew in Singapore. Most of the paddlers have profound deafness, which means that they can only hear sounds above 90 decibels. In a sports like dragon boating, which relies heavily on sound cues, the team had to adapt.

“The drummer uses visual cues to signal the start of the race and for other cues like last charge, our team utilises the vibrations from the drum to let the team know when to do the last charge,” said Debra Lam, 20, the coach of the team and a recent graduate of Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Debra, together with team manager Ryan Ng, 22, who is serving National Service, founded the team in March 2012, with just four deaf paddlers. Not well versed in sign language, Ryan and Debra admitted that communication was an obstacle, especially when they were trying to explain certain things or balance the differing opinions of each deaf paddler. Nevertheless, the two certainly felt that their efforts were worthwhile.

“The highlight would really be seeing different deaf individuals becoming a team, a big family and watching each and every one of them having more faith in themselves and the team,” said Debra. “On another note, other teams have also been pretty supportive and encouraging and we would like to express our gratitude to those teams.”

The idea came about when the duo wanted to use their passion for dragon boating to help people with disabilities. After coming up with the idea, they pitched a proposal to the judges for the ‘Now You Can Leadership Series‘ and turned the idea into reality after winning the competition.

The team has grown to 22 members, 17 of whom are deaf paddlers. In July 2012, the team won the 500m Combined Category race at the Club Crew World Championships (CCWC) in Hong Kong, just four months after the team was formed. Their next big goal is to send a full deaf crew to participate in the 22-crew Adaptive Paddlers Category in CCWC, Italy in 2014.

Red Sports caught up with Alfred Yeo, 34, the team captain, and his vice-captain, Ameliana Yap, to find out more about their experiences.

Red Sports: What motivated you to join the dragon boat team?
Ameliana Yap: I got to know about dragon boating during a post-examination activity back in Secondary Four when my cousin introduce it to our level as she did it as an external CCA (co-curricular activity).

Being someone who loves outdoor sports and water, I was interested in trying this out but did not due to a lack of time. I got to try it again in Poly for orientation but again did not join. When I lost my hearing about six years ago due to my condition known as Neurofibromitosis II (NF2) and had a lot of free time, I tried asking the Singapore Association for the Deaf (SADeaf) if they knew of a dragon boat team for the hearing impaired so I could try out and make friends. But they did not, until last year when Debra and Ryan had plans to start Deaf Dragons.

So hearing about it, I jumped on the opportunity and asked if I could join them despite my balancing issue apart from being hearing impaired. Since then, I have not turned back and I love it a lot.

Alfred Yeo: I love sea sports. I joined Deaf Dragons to shape up my body to be more fit and lean. I thought it would be fun to make more friends and interact with other teammates in the dragon boat community.

In my polytechnic days, my best buddy, Kelvin Goh, had tried to persuade me to join the NP dragon boat team at Ngee Ann Polytechnic where I was studying from 1997 to 2000, majoring in Computer Studies. At that time, I was “frightened” by intensive trainings where the team members had to run and do push ups and pull-ups. I did not think it was fun.

Finally I joined the Deaf Dragons in November 2012 and I realized it was really fun learning techniques of paddling after I went through the trainings and races.