Ariff running at full speed during a training session.
SPD Youth Aspiration Award 2017 recipient Muhammad Ariff bin Mohd Ilyas, now 20, lost his hearing in his right ear when he was in kindergarten. This article chronicles Ariff’s story and his passion for track and field, along with the motivation that propels him towards success, both in sports and in life.
“Doubts kill more than failures ever will”
is a motto that Ariff lives by and one that he hopes will encourage others as well. This motto has impacted him greatly and defines his outlook on life. “If I had listened to people’s negative remarks and not persevere, I would not be where I am right now,” said the young man with certainty.
Born without a disability, Ariff had an infection in his right ear when he was in kindergarten. He went through multiple operations and had his right ear drum removed.
As a little boy, Ariff did not feel the impact of his hearing loss. He did not think that he was different from other children. It was when he was in primary school that he began to feel otherwise.
He was made to feel different. His classmates constantly teased him whenever he tried to speak to them. They would ridicule him by replying with “Huh?” and pretending that they could not hear him. He recapped an unpleasant incident when his classmates squirted water into his right ear when he was asleep in the classroom, despite knowing his condition and the detrimental effect it would have on him. Ariff was previously instructed by his doctor to keep his right ear absolutely dry and clean to prevent further infection, since he did not have an ear drum to protect his inner ear. He woke up and was panic-stricken.
Since that incident, Ariff started to withdraw from his classmates to avoid the teasing and torment. Through his struggles, Ariff hopes that people would be more understanding of people with disabilities and to accept and include them so that they would not feel ostracised or left out.
A turning point took place for him in secondary school. “When I was 13 years old, I found out that my father was in the national track and field team!” Ariff exclaimed. He has always admired the numerous trophies that filled the cabinet in his home. Discovering his father’s achievements inspired him to dream big. “I felt the urge to do track and field as well,” he said. “I was 1.5 metres tall and weighed 90 kilogrammes. I was fat. I had people telling me that I wouldn’t be able to run because I was fat, but I didn’t heed their words.” With intense training and a good diet plan, Ariff lost 20 kilogrammes in a span of six months, and thanks to a growth spurt, he shot to 1.7 metres.
Ariff was committed to his newfound love and trained hard for it. His perseverance paid off when he represented his school the following year in the Singapore National School Games. “I wasn’t expecting much. Just being able to represent the school was an accomplishment in itself,” he said.
Ariff did not feel that his hearing loss has affected his track and field performance. “The only disadvantage is my slower reaction time at the start of the race. I had to catch-up real fast after that,” he said, going on to explain that the command to start the race is given on the right side of the track.
During training one day, Ariff tore his ligament which put his training to a halt. Many told him to stop pursuing his dreams, but he did not want to give up. He was back on the tracks shortly after and trained even harder to catch up. Ariff is currently pursuing his diploma in sports science and hopes to be called up by the national track and field team one day.
Ariff still has to go for regular ear check-ups and recently underwent a nine-hour major operation in his right ear and will be having another one in early 2018. Ariff has accepted his condition and he chooses to be positive. He is also grateful to have a supportive family.
One Proud Moment
When asked to share one defining moment in his life, Ariff related his winning the SPD Youth Aspiration Award in January 2017. The award provides a $5,000 grant that allows youths with disabilities to develop their interests and talents in the areas of visual and performing arts, sports and community service. For Ariff, the award was a testament to his unyielding efforts, sheer determination and hard work. It was a form of validation for him in overcoming the challenges and obstacles.
Ariff’s priority for the future is to be self-reliant, and he hopes to have a family of his own and lead a happy life. “Enjoy what life gives you and be thankful for what you have,” Ariff concluded.