Yip Pin Xiu: Singapore's all-conquering Paralympian

Paralympic swimmer Yip Pin Xiu Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Singapore's golden girl, Yip Pin Xiu

Three gold medals, two world records and one Lego figurine under her belt. But what's next for Singapore Paralympian Yip Pin Xiu? The BBC's Heather Chen profiles the young athlete, as part of a series on the Asian women likely to make the news in 2017.

Swimmer Joseph Schooling may have delivered Singapore its first-ever Olympic gold medal but Yip Pin Xiu remains the country's most decorated athlete. With her 2016 and 2008 wins in Rio and Beijing, Yip now has more gold medals to her name than any other Singaporean Olympian or Paralympian.

But setting her sights on too much and not having enough time is often a problem for the busy 24-year-old, who's just returned from Europe, where she spent Christmas with her boyfriend and family.

School has started and Yip is back home. The swimmer is currently studying for her degree in political science at the Singapore Management University, which recently set up a sports scholarship in her name.

Asian women to watch in 2017

It's evident that Yip's heart is still in the pool. She says she is "in a hurry" to graduate so she can resume full-time training and even though she is training up to five times a week, Yip wants to dedicate more hours to it.

"Training isn't as intensive for me now as it normally is in the lead-up to major games," she said.

But balancing commitments is no easy feat, let alone for a three-time Paralympic champion.

"Juggling school and training takes up a lot of my time. And the only travelling I'll be doing for the rest of the year will be for competitions, not holidays," she says.

But it's not impossible for her. "Since young, I've learnt to manage my time. It's difficult but I can do it."

Image caption Yip's optimism about life is infectious

The youngest of three children, Yip was born with muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder that slowly breaks down the muscles.

When she turned 11, she lost her ability to walk and had to rely on a wheelchair. By age 12, she ventured into the world of competitive swimming.

Yip also suffers from a nerve condition that affects her eyesight. But she remains infectiously optimistic about her life.

High on life

"Things are so good and I'm really happy," she said with a smile.

On that, she recalled her biggest highlight of 2016: winning at the Rio Paralympics.

"My teammates and I were overwhelmed. The recognition we received was a lot higher compared to what we ever had," she said.

"I will always remember how good it felt to return home to Singapore, to see all the support for Paralympians."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Yip is known in the sporting world for her signature back stroke swim

'I am my biggest competitor'

Rio may have been just the beginning for Yip Pin Xiu but there is still more to come. All eyes will be on her during her next major swim at the ASEAN Para Games scheduled to take place in September.

"My biggest competitor is myself and I want to be even better than that," Yip said.

She is also gearing for Tokyo 2020, which she says will be "a very exciting and vibrant event".

But does she have her sights set on a fourth gold? She had this to say:

"Committing myself to the next Paralympics can be scary and after three medals, I don't know what else could be better.

But there's a high possibility that I will go on for more years of training and competition. If I see a potential, I'll keep going."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption 'Paralympians need the same kind of support like any other athlete'

With those milestones some time away, can Yip count on the celebratory spirit and support of 2016?

"I wouldn't say that support for Paralympic athletes is dying down. Attention has diminished but that's only natural," she enthused.

"A lot of people still step forward to lend their support and offer their help and assistance."

Image copyright LEGO
Image caption Yip and her fellow Paralympian Theresa Goh were immortalised as Lego figurines

Yip has found tremendous support in her fellow Paralympian Theresa Goh, who herself has racked up world records and medals.

Beyond the headlines, both girls enjoy an endearing friendship often documented on their social media accounts. In 2016, toy maker Lego cemented the duo's star status with their very own figurines.

"We know we have a bond and we don't have to verbally remind each other of our support," she said.

"I can tell Theresa anything. It's nice having someone to talk to, who wouldn't judge you for anything and just listen."

Image caption Yip remains hopeful for the year ahead

Over the years, Yip has made various contributions to public debate in Singapore about the treatment and recognition of its disabled athletes.

"I want the world to know that being a disabled athlete is not that different from being an able-bodied one," she said.

"We put in the same number of hours and we need support like any other athlete. I would like people to look beyond the disability and see the individual instead."

She regularly takes time out from her busy schedule to lend her support to events that raise awareness of disabled sport.

"I want our community to go beyond their limits and not believe the negativity."

New year, new goal?

And water presents her with more challenges she wants to conquer in the coming year. Could scuba diving be on the cards for the world champion?

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Will Singapore's champion swimmer soon take up a new water sport?

"I love swimming but strangely, I've never dived before. Diving is interesting and I wouldn't mind learning as I love nature and being in the water so it would be quite an experience."

But she has some concerns because in the water, Yip does not have the ability to kick her legs and so channels her strength into her arms.

"Divers propel themselves in the water using flippers so I don't know how I'd do it," she admitted.

"There are special programmes in Singapore that offer disabled people a chance to dive so I know it isn't impossible, I just need to find the time."

The coming year could see her shattering even more barriers.

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