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A paralympian at 16

Find out more about Gemma Rose Foo, our youngest aspiring Paralympic qualifier here.

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, Gemma Rose Foo was introduced to horses as part of her physical therapy, to help with her balance and coordination. By synchronizing her movements with the horse, she would be simulating walking.

Initially, she started doing exercises with a horse, then an instructor spotted her potential and Gemma began her equestrian journey. Later this month, Gemma will be in London to compete in the Paralympics.

Just 16, Gemma started participating in local Para-Equestrian competitions when she was 10. In her first competition, Gemma came in last. To everyone's surprise however, she was triumphant in the next competition.


"We thought that the judges forgot about Gemma after they had announced the winners for the first and second runners-up," Gemma's mother laughed as she recalled the anticipation.

"But she came in first."

Subsequently, Gemma cinched the gold medal for every competition she had taken part in.

At the start of the interview, Gemma was shy and soft-spoken. But as we continued, she opened up more.

In the upcoming Paralympics, Gemma will be taking part in the Paradressage individual, team and freestyle events. "The aim is to have the rider and horse in harmony," Gemma explained. The road to qualifying for the Paralympics has been a tough and arduous one. It took our local Para-Equestrian three attempts to successfully qualify for the Paralympics. Gemma, who has been funding herself, had to make several financial and personal sacrifices, such as setting her academic life aside.

"I'm taking a year off school at St Theresa's Convent to prepare for the Olympics," added Gemma. "I'll be returning to school next year for my fourth year."

When asked about how she feels for the upcoming Paralympics, the first-time paralympian said that she is proud to be representing her country. "I try not to be nervous. I'm kind of excited, kind of confident," she said with a shy smile. "I think we'll do okay."

It is probably fitting that Gemma trains alongside horses since she loves animals. "It's great to work with them. Horses also teach people in the way they move and perform."


Like all other sports, Para-Equestrian definitely has its fair share of danger. "I get nasty aches and whiplash if it's a very bad fall," Gemma said. "Horses, they are very easily startled by sudden noises. They are very sensitive animals, and very unpredictable. So, [this sport is] pretty high-risk."


When Gemma is not busy training for competitions, she enjoys reading the Twilight and Vampire Diaries series, and watching show spin-offs like most teenage girls. She also loves listening to music, and was lucky to have met her favourite singer, Adam Lambert, two years ago during the Singapore F1 Race. The 16-year-old has even taken photos with superstars like Paramore and Lady Gaga.


When probed about what she sees herself doing in the future, Gemma said: "I'll probably still be in Equestrian. Once you have the passion to do [something], you just do it." Para-Equestrian, for Gemma, is a very fulfilling sport to be in. "It's a journey, and you learn new things everyday," she said.


Tags: Sports