Tell us about yourself and how you both met
Theresa Goh: I’m a Singapore Paralympic swimmer. And I like cats.
Yip Pin Xiu: I’m also a Team Singapore Paralympic swimmer, and I train full time. I just recently graduated from school! We first met when I joined the team in April 2004. Initially she was this ice queen, so she was very ‘dao’ [translates to unapproachable in the Hokkien dialect] and she didn’t really talk to people. I didn’t talk to her until we became roommates in September 2005.
Theresa: I was forced to talk to her.
Pin Xiu: I was very chatty.
Theresa: You were very noisy…
Pin Xiu: Like you know typical 12-year-old kind of noisy? [Laughs] I’m so glad you’re my friend.
Describe your friendship in one word
Theresa & Pin Xiu: Comfortable.
Theresa: I don’t know whether it’s comfortable, or too comfortable. [Looks at Pin Xiu] It’s to the point like you’re there but I can pretend you’re not there. It’s the same as being alone.
Pin Xiu: We both need our own space. After years of seeing each other every day, we’ve learnt how to respect each other’s spaces so we don’t intrude. Sometimes it’s comfortable enough that we don’t feel like we have to make conversation.
Why pick this career?
Pin Xiu: I guess it’s enjoyable. That’s the only way we can continue, because it is exhausting. But it’s also something we really enjoy doing.
Theresa: It’s something we want to do.
Pin Xiu: We don’t exactly enjoy it every day. Every day we are like, ugh, I’m so tired. I’m in so much pain.
Theresa: [Nods] So MUCH pain.
Pin Xiu: But looking back, I enjoy being able to push myself. That by doing this today, I’ll get better in a few months. For me, it’s the push. The years training up for the Beijing and Rio Paralympics really defined me as a swimmer and as a person too. Who I am today is largely because of what I do. I used to be very unconfident, very shy. But through swimming and the exposure, I became a lot more confident and outgoing.
Was competitive swimming always part of the plan?
Pin Xiu: No, swimming was just something I did with my family, with my brothers. I only decided I wanted to go to the Paralympics in 2006. I was training for it, but it wasn’t something I had in mind. Like, oh I have to be a Paralympic champion, or anything like that. I just always wanted to clock better times in my laps. Be better than I was. After the Paralympic games in Beijing, it also brought more awareness to Singapore. That was when swimming started to be more of a career for me.
Theresa: I mean my journey has been slightly longer…
Pin Xiu: Slightly?!
Theresa: Sometimes I don’t know why I’m your friend. [Both laugh] I also never thought I wanted to be a Paralympian, it’s not something I actively chased. Every Paralympics was kind of different. Athens was different. It was new. It was like – oh my God, my first time. Can’t wait to participate. In Beijing, my coach and I thought I was going to get a gold or silver medal. But in the end, it didn’t work out, and I got fourth place. That was probably the lowest point of my life? Because it was something I spent four years training for. I completely sacrificed friends and social life for swimming. I felt I had given everything I could. Then came up with nothing. It really devastated me. I couldn’t swim or be in the pool for over nine months.
Even after I got back in the pool a year later, I still got very sad when I thought of Beijing. And I almost felt it was a failure, but later on realized it’s the failures that lead to successes. When I was deciding to come back to full time training – we had a new coach and scholarship – and we were all feeling like everything’s falling into place. I was also feeling there was a little more I had to give, because I didn’t get it in Beijing. If I did get my medal in Beijing, I probably wouldn’t have felt that way. I would have quit. It was thanks to the failures, that I felt I pushed myself.
How are you empowering others?
Pin Xiu: I think it’s just always nice to be able to see examples of what people have done, so it seems possible to actually do it. Hopefully other people realize that going to the Paralympics is tough, it’s damn tough. It’s not only in reference to the Paralympics – but it’s about anything they want in life – as long as they have a goal, it’s possible. You have to work your ass off for it.
Theresa: Once people see it’s possible, it breaks a lot of walls. It’s like the four-minute mile. Before it’s broken, people think it’s impossible. Until it’s broken then suddenly everybody can do it. Being in the roles that we are, and doing what we do… It’s more of a representation of being able to do something that hopefully breaks barriers for younger athletes.
What has your disability taught you about life?
Theresa: I grew up not knowing what to do with my disability. At one point, I was like no I’m not disabled. I erased my own disability and I was in denial. Later on, I was like, actually it’s okay. It’s fine to have a disability, it’s not my fault. I’m not the one with the problem, but it’s the world. It’s actually helped me more because of all the opportunities I got, or am getting. It’s because of who I am.
Pin Xiu: Mine was more gradual because I was able to walk. And then only when I was 13… People always ask me whether I was sad to be on a wheelchair, but actually no I was very happy. It’s more freedom. I can catch up with everybody else. When I was on braces… Because I didn’t know anyone else with a disability, I was just very different from everyone around me. If I go for classes outside of school, I would wear jeans to try and hide it. But after swimming and everything, I learnt how to embrace it. Let me put it this way, it’s all in your mind. Even though I am disabled, I feel I can do a lot of things that other people cannot do. So, I wouldn’t say they’re more disabled than me, but I would say…
Theresa: Mentally, they’re just limited!
Pin Xiu: Even a lot of people who aren’t on wheelchairs, like able-bodied people, are very limited by their minds. Even though I have a disability, I still choose to live my life to the fullest the way I want to, and I’m happy being the way I am.
Theresa: Of course, there are realistic things we definitely can’t do. Can’t walk, can’t run. That’s for sure.
Pin Xiu: I don’t think we’re missing out. The only thing I really want to do if I can stand is dance.
Even a lot of people who aren’t on wheelchairs, like able-bodied people, are very limited by their minds. Even though I have a disability, I still choose to live my life to the fullest the way I want to, and I’m happy being the way I am. – Yip Pin Xiu
Pin Xiu, how does it feel having your achievements compared with Joseph Schooling’s?
Pin Xiu: Schooling winning the Olympic Gold probably brought more attention to the Paralympics, which came after. It also brought more focus on what happened in Beijing, because people were saying it wasn’t the first Olympic medal.
Theresa: Olympic Gold sure, but if you say his was the first world-level medal that Singapore has won, then that’s inaccurate. Then you’re just erasing all of our previous achievements. Because we’ve gotten world records you know, how come you don’t care about that?
Pin Xiu: I care about it!
Theresa: Is it just because we have a disability? The comments were very good timing because it showed both sides – where some people get it and knew that the disability didn’t mean we were any lesser. So, there are some people who were able to see our efforts, and there were past achievements that were unrecognized. It’s a good discussion I thought. It shows that they care, and they have opinions. Something we want. Especially because in Singapore we tend to be very sheltered and told we’re supposed to think this way, and if you think outside of that, then it’s wrong. I think it’s good we have different opinions and views.
Theresa, congrats on publicly coming out at the most recent Pink Dot. Do you think your friends and family, or public opinion of you changed?
Theresa: I didn’t think I was afraid to come out until I was thinking of coming out. I also was never really in the closet. But when it came to the media I guess I was… Sometimes it felt like I had to hide, in a sense. I mean I felt quite free after, freer than I thought I’d be. I didn’t really ask people permission to do this. I told my friends, I just did this interview with The Straits Times, Pink Dot asked me to be an ambassador. It was not about asking for their permission, it was more telling them that this is the way it is. But they weren’t really negative. They were all very supportive. Maybe they were afraid to oppose me. I mean I’m just lucky everything went really smoothly. Even after The Straits Times article came out, I didn’t get direct negative comments.
Pin Xiu: Even the reporter didn’t receive any negative comments.
Theresa: Yeah, right?
Pin Xiu: The one that wrote the article didn’t get hate mail.
Theresa: Firstly, it was on The Straits Times. She actually got positive responses, and her colleagues, even those she’s never really spoken to were really glad it came out, and it was all a good experience. I was honestly quite surprised. I was prepared, I was prepared for the hate mail. And then when I go to the pool. There are a lot of parents there. So I’m always bracing myself… In fact there were some parents who said very nice things to me also. It’s always good when they’re surprising, positively. It’s always that fear… How we’re living now, it’s the fear of being yourself. Which is not right. I’m just glad to be in a position when I can try to incite change.
Pin Xiu: I think not only the LGBT situation, but even for single moms…
Theresa: I’m definitely all for it y’know?
Pin Xiu: You do you.
Theresa: In the end if it’s a non-traditional family nucleus, and it still has love and care, what’s wrong with that? It’s very close-minded to think you need a mum and dad to have a family. Like what about those couples, especially those couples that can’t have babies? If they have a mom and dad, and a cat. Or a mom and dad and a dog. Or people who don’t want kids.
I was prepared, I was prepared for the hate mail. And then when I go to the pool. There are a lot of parents there. So I’m always bracing myself… In fact there were some parents who said very nice things to me also. It’s always good when they’re surprising, positively. It’s always that fear… How we’re living now, it’s the fear of being yourself. Which is not right. I’m just glad to be in a position when I can try to incite change. – Theresa Goh
How do you deal with spending time away from your family?
Theresa: I miss my cats. I do. I bring photos along with me.
Pin Xiu: I think from a younger age, I’ve made a lot of sacrifices on family time and social life, so my friends and family are pretty understanding. I guess I’m the kind who can leave for a while and then come back and catch up like I haven’t been gone for long. It’s difficult, but whenever we’re back in town, we try and catch up as much as possible.
Theresa: I think in 2016 we travelled to nine cities…
Pin Xiu: It was so tiring. Whenever people say oh you’re travelling again, so fun. Please leave us here!
What’s your diet like? Do you take supplements?
Pin Xiu: We are on different diets. I need to bulk up and she needs to lean up.
Theresa: I don’t need to bulk up anymore. There are certain things [fried food and unhealthy stuff] I try to stay away from, especially in recent years – just being more aware and wanting to… After you’ve eaten really healthy stuff, you feel kind of sick after you go back to normal food.
Pin Xiu: We had to take beetroot shots last year, before every training session.
Theresa: It helps with recovery and is high in nitrates.
Pin Xiu: We’re supposed to take fish oil – it helps with recovery too. That’s the only supplement our dietician told us to take. The rest should come from real food. The key to do it is to have a very colorful diet.
Tell us about your skincare routine
Theresa: I do facial wash. I switch between Garnier Turbolight Oil Control Anti-blackheads Brightening Icy Scrub and Freeman Dead Sea Minerals Foaming Facial Cleanser.
Pin Xiu: That’s the most basic thing. Well at least you wash your face.
Theresa: But the thing is my facial wash is probably not meant for me, because it’s for men.
Pin Xiu: She has this thing where she likes to use men’s products.
Theresa: I really like the menthol.
Pin Xiu: So mine is mostly at night, because in the morning it’s too early to put anything on, and in half an hour, I’m in the pool. In the morning, I wash my face with Banila Co. Clean It Zero, and brush my teeth. I put on Shiseido UV Perfector SPF50+/PA++++. Then I change and go to the pool. At night, I apply the Lush Breath of Fresh Air toner, then the Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum, and moisturize with Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream. Sometimes if I feel I have under eye bags, I put on some Lancome Advanced Genifique Eye Light Pearl Eye Illuminator Youth Activating Concentrate. Sometimes I use Lush’s Honey Lip Scrub. Sometimes I’ll mask. If it’s overseas then I’ll do a hydrating or brightening sheet mask, if it’s in Singapore my skin can get oily, so I’ll do clay. I use the Innisfree Super Volcanic Clay Mousse Mask. The other one I use is Lush’s Mask of Magnaminty. [Says to Theresa] That’s the one I want you to try because it’s minty.
Theresa: I use lip balm.
Theresa: I use moisturizer, because of my eczema. What’s that one called? Laneige’s Water Bank Moisture Cream.
What are your makeup essentials?
Pin Xiu: Primer, foundation, concealer… I use the Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer, Rimmel Wake Me Up Foundation in True Ivory #103. For concealer, its Etude House Big Cover Cushion Concealer in Sand. For bronzer and highlighter, I use the Too Faced Sweet Indulgence Palette. I feel like my collection needs to grow. I use mascara…
Theresa: She takes damn long to prepare…
Pin Xiu: Excuse me, I apply my makeup damn fast okay! If you meet a girlfriend and she takes one hour to prepare, you’ll appreciate how fast I am. I use the Mascara Volume Effet Faux Cils, the waterproof one in black. Lipstick I use lots of different kinds. Eyeliner. I haven’t been able to find one that’s really good. I think because I have very oily eyelids and my eyeliner smudges.
Name three desert island must-haves
Theresa: Deodorant from Nivea – either Fresh Active or Dry Impact. I use men’s Nivea, because I don’t like flowery scents. Any water-based pomade that smells nice – I like KO Knock Out Styling Pomade or Dappers Kingsman Waterbased Pomade. I don’t like oil-based ones, they’re very hard to wash off, and you got to scrub and scrub. Sunscreen? I use Bioderma Photoderm Spot SPF50+ Cream.
Pin Xiu: For me it would be a face serum. The Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum really works for me. And a hair thingy to tame my hair. Oh I need my Tangle Teezer. That one is a need. And uh, leave-in conditioner, L’Oreal Ever Sleek Frizz Finish Serum.
Theresa, how do you maintain your bleached locks?
Theresa: And for hair, I use Dove Intensive Repair… At the beginning, I didn’t really care. Then I started using the Hask 5-in-1 Hair Rescue Leave-in Conditioner Spray, before and after training. Or whenever I remember.
Pin Xiu: Did you know in the past she didn’t even use conditioner. I had to buy it, use it, and then tell her to use it.
Theresa: It’s a spray-on one. I just air-dry my hair.
Pin Xiu: But it’s just because we’re lazy. It’s not because heat is damaging or anything. But you know, our hairdresser said Theresa’s hair is meant to be dyed. Because her hair is very strong even after bleaching. If I bleach mine, there’s bound to be breakage.
Theresa: I don’t use anything else. If I have colors, then it’ll just fade to blonde. I don’t do anything else. Just shampoo and leave-in conditioner. For my color, I go to Far East Shopping Centre, at Master Color By Hon. G Ugly Duckling Ambassador Salon.
What fragrance do you use?
Pin Xiu: Chlorine? [Laughs]
Theresa: Eau De Chlorine! No, no. What’s mine?
Pin Xiu: I stopped using. I used to… I don’t think I need it? As in I think I smell nice? Previously, I used Burberry Brit Sheer.
—as told to Charmaine Lee at Theresa’s home in Singapore on 3 Aug 2017