“I could still achieve great things,” Mawjit Singh, a 56-year-old para-lawn bowler, said optimistically when I asked about his disability.
Despite losing a leg in a motorcycle accident in 1984, the para-athlete has lived out those words.
Since his accident, he’s represented Singapore in various competitions as a thrower and lawn bowler, bringing home medals over the years.
The 20-year-old Mawjit was fresh out of the army when he met with an accident.
He lost consciousness and found himself in the hospital.
Worst of all, he fractured his left leg, which caused gangrene. He was later told that his leg had to be amputated at the middle of his thigh.
“I was in disbelief, but mostly in immense pain so it took me a while to process everything that had happened as I was still in shock,” he said.
Declining to speak to me about the details of the accident, Mawjit instead turned my attention to how he set about recovering.
Still young, Mawjit knew he had a whole life ahead of him, which fueled him to “bounce back and accept the situation”.
While I interpreted this as another example of Mawjit’s optimism, he described it a different way — “determined”.
Like how he was “determined” to get out of the hospital and return to his daily routine.
“Or rather, how to overcome my new life,” he added, knowing he had to learn to move around with a wheelchair and crutches, and now a prosthetic leg.
After several years, in 1995, he met a group of athletes with disabilities who introduced him to shot put, discus, and javelin.
“I was drawn to it instantly.”
Learning to compete again
Unlike other athletes in the field — quite literally — Mawjit wasn't able to get a running start while participating in the throwing events.
“I adapted by using a structured chair and relied solely on my upper body strength to participate in these sports.”
Whilst unable to run, Mawjit found the other movements that make up a throw easy to grasp, crediting his years playing hockey as a student in Maju Secondary School.
The taste of competition and camaraderie in the games also brought him back to his glory days as a hockey player.
It wasn’t difficult in principle. Like hockey, throwing requires coordination, strength and a lot of practice.
The only difference was that field sports required much less contact than what Mawjit had seen in his school days.
“It made me active again and tremendously improved my mental and physical state,” he shared.
The learning curve was undoubtedly made easier to scale due to his admirable confidence — his belief that he was able to do just about anything.
“I didn’t see myself as a ‘person with a disability’,” he explained.
“Rather, [I saw myself] as someone who was able to pick up the sport with ease and extreme determination.”
It didn’t take him long to go from a complete beginner to a professional athlete.
In 1999, he made his mark as a silver medalist in discus and shot put during the Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled.
Continuing at 56
Even as Mawjit got older, the fire to compete did not fade. In 2014, he decided to transition to compete in lawn bowls.
Unfamiliar with the sport, I watched a couple of videos to understand the game.
What I saw was a slow-paced and calm game with minimal movements other than the swing of an arm and a slight twist of the obliques.
Quite different from the roars let out by throwers, and definitely without the knocking or bumping of players like in a hockey match.
At first, I struggled to understand Mawjit’s decision. Why would lawn bowling appeal to him, given his sporting history?
But Mawjit understood he needed a sport he could continue to play as he aged.
“Unlike the explosive power needed in throwing events, lawn bowling relies more on precision, technique, and strategy rather than sheer strength,” he explained.
“The risk of injury in lawn bowling is generally lower, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
As the Sports Hub puts it, lawn bowling is “the gentle way to get active” and is suitable for any age group.
Just like with field sports, Mawjit took to lawn bowling quite easily.
In the decade since, he’s achieved a bronze medal at the World Bowls' Championships - Para Men's Pairs, one of his first international medals in this sport.
Achieving great things
At 56, Mawjit has shown no sign of slowing down. On the list of selected athletes for the 2023 Asian Para Games, he held the distinction of being the athlete with the longest sporting career.
Not to mention he’s represented Singapore in more than one sport.
“Representing Singapore in sports has always been a huge honour for me. Not everyone gets an opportunity to represent their country often, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do so for over 25 years.”
But what stuck out to me about Mawjit was not his achievements alone, but his optimism and determination throughout.
The way he never focused on his struggles but instead on how he could push himself further.
“I live by this quote from ‘Rocky III’, where Rocky Balboa says, ‘Going in one more round when you don’t think you can, that’s what makes all the difference in your life.’”
Choosing the road downhill might’ve been an easy choice. But it hasn’t been an option for Mawjit now, or then, or ever.
Top images via Mawjit Singh.