It was his first overseas competition. Having flown for over 18 hours from Singapore, Nor Safik Mohd Bahtiar arrived in Los Angeles tired but excited to see the sights of Pasadena and Beverly Hills.
However, walking down the streets of Hollywood was not what Safik was looking forward to most; he was about to compete on the biggest stage in his life - The Special Olympics World Summer Games 2015.
The 18-year-old student from the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN) Delta Senior School has been playing table tennis since 2012. He has Global Development Delay, a condition characterised by lower intellectual functioning.
However, that did not prevent him from bringing home both a bronze and gold medal in the individual and mixed doubles categories, respectively.
SAFIK POISED TO SERVE.
Safik was part of a contingent of 33 athletes who represented Singapore in the Special Olympics, held from Jul 25 to Aug 2. Made up of athletes with intellectual disabilities and their coaches, the contingent returned with a haul of 12 gold, 11 silver and nine bronze medals.
This was the first time a Singaporean table tennis team was sent to the Special Olympics, making Safik's victory all the more significant. Youth.SG met up with Safik at the Special Olympics Singapore office two weeks ago, and the humble special olympian shared about his experience.
"We tried our best to get a gold lah," Safik said in an informal manner, referring to his mixed doubles event with Nur Hidiya Hairoman, "she wanted to try to get a gold, so I tried my best to push us all the way up."
SAFIK WAS INSPIRED TO PICK UP TABLE TENNIS AFTER WATCHING TEAM SINGAPORE AT THE OLYMPICS.
When asked what he enjoyed most from his trip to the United States, Safik replied without hesitation: "Making new friends and playing with them; athletes from Indonesia, Egypt, and a lot of other countries. I made friends and I just played with them friendlies."
The middle child of five siblings opened up on how he started playing table tennis after watching Li Jiawei and the rest of team Singapore at the 2012 London Olympics.
"It seemed quite fun, so I just played with my friends, then I represented the school," Safik recalled.
He was later scouted by the Singapore Disability Sports Council and continued training outside of school. One of the highlights of his sporting career was when he met and played a friendly match against the National Team last year, and was impressed by their professionalism.
BALANCING STUDIES AND SPORTS IS A DELICATE ART.
Training for the Special Olympics was no easy feat for Safik, who is into his second year at APSN. He had to balance both his studies and internship as a Singapore Airlines ground staff, with table tennis training that took place four times a week.
So, how did he cope with those demands?
He replied: "Sometimes, I see which important thing comes first. Like, if my exam is coming first then I will study until my exam is finished, then I will do other things."
When asked what he enjoys besides table tennis, Safik smiled shyly and said: "Playing football."
He is the goalkeeper on his school team. Sports is not his only interest – Safik also enjoys cooking and specialises in pasta dishes too.
Safik is currently training for the ASEAN Para Games that will be held in Singapore this December, where he hopes to see the friends he made in LA once again.