Singapore’s most decorated Paralympian
Laurentia Tan developed cerebral palsy and profound deafness after birth, and the doctors warned that she might never walk and might need institutional care. Her parents ignored this advice and moved to the United Kingdom when she was three. When Laurentia was five, she took up riding as a form of physiotherapy to strengthen her back and her muscles, as well as to build her confidence and self-esteem.
Today, 30 years later, Laurentia is Singapore’s most decorated Paralympian, having won two bronze medals at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, and a silver and a bronze at the 2012 London Games.
She is also a Solidarity Ambassador for the International Federation for Equestrian Sports, the only Asian amongst the eight accomplished riders who help the federation in its efforts to develop equestrian sports around the world in a sustainable and professional way.
What is remarkable is that she competes in the dressage events, where riders and their horses have to complete certain movements to music. Being profoundly deaf, Laurentia cannot hear the music. She is given a signal when the music has begun, and she then controls her horse by sensing its rhythms.
When she was 18, after completing her A levels at the Mary Hare Grammar School for the Deaf in the UK, Laurentia stopped horse riding as she was busy working towards an honours degree in hospitality management and tourism. She then began a career as a mental health worker.
Inspired by her own advice to patients to take up riding as part of their rehabilitation, she started riding again in 2005. She was encouraged to participate in dressage competitions and quickly progressed to the Riding for Disabled Association (RDA) Nationals in the UK in 2006.
The next year, RDA Singapore invited her to join the Singapore team for the World Para Dressage Championships, and she did well enough to qualify for the 2008 Paralympics. The two bronzes she won at the 2008 Games were Singapore’s first Paralympic medals and Asia’s first equestrian medals at the Paralympics.
Laurentia is now working towards a post-graduate diploma in psychology. She trains daily with a programme of physiotherapy, working out on treadmill and step machines, and horse riding. She was awarded the Public Service Medal in 2008 after her victories at the Beijing Games, and after the 2012 London Games she was awarded the Public Service Star.
Laurentia was Her World magazine’s “Young Woman Achiever” in 2008.
"I am probably most competitive with myself, as I am always trying to push myself to better my scores. In some ways, I like the challenge as I believe that, unless we challenge ourselves, we do not know what we can do our full potential is." "I like the feeling of riding, the sense of freedom. I can’t run but when I ride a horse, I feel like I am running. I can’t dance but on a horse, I can look like I am dancing."