Interview by Chan Hui Mui/Red Sports. Photos courtesy of Adelia Naomi Yokoyama and Deaf Sports Association.
Adelia Naomi Yokoyama, 20, who was born with profound hearing loss, grew up in a sporty family. While her eldest sister, Natasha represented Singapore in sailing, Adelia made history by winning Singapore’s first Deaflympics gold medal in 2017.
Some of Adelia’s notable achievements include winning the gold medal in the Women’s Masters event at the 2017 Deaflympics. This year she has clinched silver in the Women’s Singles, All Events & Masters Event Asean Deaf Bowling Championship 2019 and a gold in the Women’s Doubles & Trios Event of the same competition.
As she prepares for her upcoming competition at the World Deaf Bowling Championship this August, Adelia sat down with Red Sports to share about her bowling journey.
Red Sports: Tell us about your background
Adelia: I was born with a profound hearing loss in both ears. I had my first cochlear implant when I was 26 months (right) and got my second at the age of 11 (left). I started learning ballet to practice dancing with music and rhythm. This is to ensure that I can listen to the tempo correctly. At the age of 9, I joined bowling as a CCA. It turns out that I am passionate about bowling. Thus, I decided to drop ballet and focus on doing well in bowling.
I became part of Deaf Sports Association (DSA) around mid-2015 and represented Singapore for the first time with DSA in 2017 at Deaflympics.
Red Sports: What is your current occupation? Are you studying or working?
Adelia: I’m currently studying Bachelor of Sports Science and Exercise with Edinburg Napier University at PSB Academy.
Red Sports: What are some of the challenges that you have faced with wearing of a cochlear implant?
Adelia: In class, I have to sit at the first few rows so that it was easier for me to hear the teacher. If I were to sit at the back, I would not be able to hear the teacher due to any slight noise from my classmates. Whenever I’m with a group of people, it’s hard to keep up if many of them speak at the same time. I would ensure my friends and families take turns to speak.
When I was younger, I had quite a low self-esteem as I am different from my classmates and friends. They can hear clearly easily while sometimes I tend to struggle. As I grow up, I accepted what I am and who I am.
Red Sports: Why did you pick up bowling? Anyone who inspired you?
Adelia: When I first bowled with my sister and her friends, my scores were not bad. It was the same period which I should choose a CCA in primary three and I decided to pick bowling. Bowling turned out to be an interesting sport, which made me want to stay in the sport and pursue further.
Red Sports: Do you compete in both deaf bowling and open bowling competitions? If yes, any different strategies used while competing?
Adelia: There is a difference between deaf and open bowling competition in terms of communication. In deaf bowling competitions, we have to communicate through sign language, which I’m not fluent in as we are not allowed to wear hearing aids and cochlear implant (CI) However, in open bowling competitions we can communicate verbally.
Red Sports: What was your first tournament? How did it go?
Adelia: I got into the school team when I was in primary five. It was a very scary experience, considering that it was my first ever tournament. It did not go so well because I was still quite new and hadn’t had much understanding about the lane patterns and ball reaction. However, it was a good learning experience and exposure.
Red Sports: What is the most memorable tournament? Why?
Adelia: Deaflympics was the most memorable tournament, especially in Masters Event. It was my first time participating in a major tournament. During the second round, I felt that I was going to lose to Korea and I was losing hope.
My coach’s belief and encouragement helped me to have faith and restored my confidence. As the rounds went on, my coach was always behind my lane, giving me the encouragement that I needed. My coach was there during the crucial moment and that was what I needed at that point in time. I also felt that this competition drew us closer to have a good coach-athlete relationship which is very important.
Representing Singapore and winning the first-ever gold medal in Deaflympics for Singapore was something I never dreamed of and I did not expect that I would be that person who achieved it. This gold medal has so many memories and meaning that will forever be etched in my heart forever.
This tournament taught me that communication with the coach is crucial, to focus on myself instead of the opponents, have self-confidence and believe that I can do it.
Red Sports: What do you like about bowling?
Adelia: Bowling is an interesting sport. It’s like a mountain to those who don’t have knowledge about bowling. Bowlers see what’s at the bottom of the mountain but non-bowlers only see the top. Bowling is more than hitting the target and getting towards the pocket. There is a certain oiling pattern and we have to know which bowling ball is suitable for this lane condition and what kind of line we should play on. Going to competition provides me with extra adrenaline. Because of this, bowling is both a physical and mental game which makes me love bowling.
Red Sports: What are some of the challenges that you have faced during your bowling career?
Adelia: Bowling without my Cochlear Implant is definitely challenging for me in terms of communication. Since I grew up communicating through speech, sign language is quite hard for me to keep up as I’m still new and learning. However, my coach and I try to be patient with each other and I depend a lot on his lip reading and hand gestures for me to understand and ensure that there’s no misunderstanding or miscommunication.
Bowling with hearing people is always a challenge as they’re highly competitive with high scoring so I always learn to cope with that immense pressure from their high scoring by training hard. I work on the accuracy, consistency as well as my physical game to help improve my game.
Red Sports: What goes through your mind during the tournament?
Adelia: I tell myself to stay calm, be aware of what line I’m bowling and the ball reaction, and most importantly, enjoy the game. I also tell myself that no matter what happens, I got to stay positive and continue to have faith in myself.
Red Sports: What is your training like?
Adelia: My training is usually once a week but as competition gets nearer, I would train twice or thrice a week to get more of the flow of bowling more frequently in competition.
Red Sports: How do you balance training with other commitments like work, studies, family, etc?
Adelia: I’m currently a part-time university student so my classes are at night on weekdays. In the day, I would volunteer to coach at my secondary school to gain more coaching experience and understand the coach-athlete relationship to help myself as a bowler. On my free days, I would study/do my assignment. I spend time with my family on weekends as they’re only free on those days. So all my training, studies and family/friends time are balanced.
Red Sports: What are you looking forward to during the World Deaf Bowling Championship at Taiwan?
Adelia: I’m looking forward to seeing continuous improvements in my scores, more experiences gained and winning more medals for Singapore.
Red Sports: Any expectations for the World Championship?
Adelia: I have been training hard for the world championships. I am aware that my opponents are highly skilled & very experienced. My coach and I have set high targets. I am learning to manage my nerves, stay very focused and to do Singapore proud.
Red Sports: What is next for you after the World Championship?
Adelia: The next competition would be the 9th Asia Pacific Deaf Games, which will be held in November 2019.
Red Sports: What do you hope to achieve in 5 years?
Adelia: I hope that I won’t be just a bowler who will have achieved many things but also an inspiring bowler, who can inspire people around me. I also hope to be a bowling coach.
Red Sports: What do your family and friends think about your passion for bowling?
Adelia: Bowling has been my sport for the past 11 years. Whenever I don’t perform well, I see it as a motivation, not a failure. My friends and family play an important role by supporting and motivating me to be a better bowler. I never give up. I get up each time I fall down.
Red Sports: Is there anything that you would like to share with our readers on Red Sports?
Adelia: It is important to believe and have faith in yourself and having others supporting you. They are the key to success regardless of your background. Success doesn’t happen if you don’t believe in yourself because it is about telling yourself, “I’M POSSIBLE”. Supporters play an important role and make it more possible.