Laurentia Tan was born on 24 April 1979 in Singapore. She developed Cerebral Palsy and profound deafness after birth, due to severe jaundice. Doctors informed her parents that she would probably never walk or talk, and would probably live as a “vegetable”. They recommended that Laurentia be institutionalized.
At the age of 5, unable to sit up properly, she was introduced to Riding for the Disabled (RDA). Riding therapy helped her muscle development, and she was not only able to sit up, but eventually to stand and walk. She also developed in confidence and self-esteem.
Laurentia learned to lip-read and talk, and excelled in her studies. She did her GCSEs and A Levels at a specialist grammar school for the deaf. At the age of 18, she had learnt to drive, became independent and started her studies at Oxford Brookes University for an Honours Degree in Hospitality Management & Tourism. By the time Laurentia was 25, she was working as a mental health worker.
At the end of 2005, Laurentia took up riding again at the Diamond Centre for Disabled Riders. There, she met her present coach, Heather “Penny” Pegrum, who encouraged her to participate in Para-Equestrian Dressage. Riding a 19-year-old retired competition horse, “Harvey”, she participated in her first International Competition at Hartpury College in July 2007, where she placed 4th with a score of 67.94%. This qualified her for the Paralympic Games in Beijing 2008.
At the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games, with “Harvey” who was by then 20, she scored 68.80% to win the bronze medal, 3rd behind world champions Anne Dunham (73.10%) and Sophie Christiansen (72.80%) both of the United Kingdom. She was the first Singaporean to win a Paralympic medal, and held Asia’s first Paralympic Equestrian medal. Two days after achieving the first medal, Laurentia collected her second bronze with a score of 70.167% for the Individual Freestyle Event.
For her extraordinary achievements, Laurentia was conferred the Pingkat Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Medal) by President S.R. Nathan. She was named as one of Singapore’s outstanding athletes, and was named the Her World “Young Woman Achiever” of 2008.
Laurentia says, “For me, riding a horse gives me the freedom; the movements and energy that my own legs cannot do! It has helped my mobility, my co-ordination and given me confidence in myself. It has also taught me a lot about life; about teamwork, partnership, trust, and also that hard work can be rewarding. Our greatest glory is not in never failing; but in rising every time we fall.”
At present, Laurentia spends most of her time training in England and in Germany, participating in various regional, national and international competitions. In 2010, she was placed 5th with her own horse, Redcliff, at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.
More recently, Laurentia has been riding in competitions in Germany, Netherlands and Italy, all with different borrowed horses. These qualified her for the Paralympics Games 2012 in London, together with her Team Singapore teammates, Maximillian Tan and Gemma Foo.
Laurentia is involved in the community, visiting schools to give talks and presentations, attends award ceremonies, charity and fund raising events, all to raise the profile for equestrian sports and people with disabilities.
Maximillian was already sailing competitively in International Championships when he chanced upon therapeutic riding at the RDA Singapore. Born with Cerebral Palsy, this therapy was excellent for his muscle tone and control.
Through this, he was introduced to competitive riding and since 2006 his focus has been in Para-Dressage. The sport has taken him through many countries for competitions namely, Australia, England, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Germany, Italy and Holland. Experiences were gained and friends were made, which enhanced his love for the sports and horses.
Last year, he started competing as part of Team Singapore, alongside Laurentia Tan and Gemma Foo. The team went through some tiring and tough times but the results made all the efforts worthwhile. The goal made in 2010 to achieve qualification for the London Paralympics 2012 seem daunting at that time, but through sheer hard work, determination and planning it is now a reality!
These successes could not have come about if not for his inspiring coaches, motivating parents, and the supportive Equestrian Federation of Singapore led by its President, Dr Melanie Chew.
Coming from a family who are involved in sports, Max has the encouragement and support so vital in achieving success. He claims his role model to be his sister, who captained the women’s water polo to a gold medal at the recently concluded SEA Games 2011. His parents – his mother is a secretary – give him great support. His father retired from full time employment to support Max in the sport.
Max was fortunate to find an equine partner – the 21-year-old “Avalon”. Although he is the equivalent of 80 human years old, “Avalon” is spritely and patient, and greatly enjoys his partnership with Max, and being on the “Road to London”. “Avalon” is also hard-working, and competes with both Gemma and Max, as they are riding in different classes.
Max is 24 years and will be graduating in a few months with a Fine Arts degree in Creative Producing.
He was born with Cerebral Palsy and ambles about with elbow crutches. His personal adage in life is: “living life to the fullest”, which was featured in the Singapore Sports Council National Day Campaign 2010.
Since his infant days, he has shown a strong inclination towards the performing arts and thus it was not surprising that he has been involved in a number of stage productions as well as short films. He has also produced a few short films and created a fund-raising corporate video for the RDA Singapore.
Gemma lists as her ambition, “to ride in the London Paralympic Games”.
She has achieved her ambition at the tender age of 15!
To qualify for the Paralympics, Gemma has had to overcome Cerebral Palsy, which affects her balance and walking. She also has had problems with learning and memory.
Now, however, she walks just like any other active teenager, and memorizes complex tests and movements with ease.
At her home stable at the National Equestrian Park in Jalan Mashhor, she trains with Head Coach Roy Ibrahim, with frequent visits from National Coach Volker Eubel.
In the intensive training camps in Germany, she trains under Penny Pegrum and Volker Eubel, at “Lerchenhof”, the team base situated just outside of Cologne.
Gemma started Hippotherapy at RDA Singapore at the age of 8. With the encouragement of her dedicated instructors at the RDA, she progressed to Para-Dressage. She competed in her first competition in 2008 at the Singapore Disability Sports Council Annual Disability League and came in 1st in her class.
Due to her talent and her results, she was picked by the Equestrian Federation of Singapore to represent Singapore at the Hope Cup competition in Taiwan in 2010. In 2011, Gemma was selected by EFS to be a part of Team Singapore aiming to qualify for the London Paralympic Games 2012.
She rides “Avalon,” sharing the 21-year-old horse with teammate Max Tan.
She is a huge animal lover — especially horses!