Boccia gives paralympic girl new sense of purpose


Sheirviana with her parents, Mathew and Rose.

SIBU (Jan 1): Boccia has given Sheirviana Mathew a new sense of purpose in life.

The 20th Para Malaysia Games (Para Sukma) bronze medallist recently told The Borneo Post that since being introduced to this game in 2020, all she could think about was ways to improve her skills and to play better.

Every day, she would watch anything related to the sport on YouTube and discuss it with her father.

She then entered her first competition, the National Boccia Games Circuit I in Kuala Lumpur in June this year, where she bagged a bronze medal.

In October, she took home a silver medal from the Games’s Circuit II, also in Kuala Lumpur.

The following month, during the 20th Para Sukma, she claimed another bronze.

“I did not know that I could win those games. I just promised myself that I must do my best, that’s the most important thing,” she said.

‘How it started’

Sheirviana, 25, has cerebral palsy (CP) and all her life, she has been depending on her parents.

She was unable to take part in any activity back in school, but she was like the other children – she studied, had lots of friends, and completed her secondary education at SMK Sibu Jaya.

However, it was not long after that she felt she had lost any sense of purpose, which later dragged her down into depression.

Sheirviana’s father Mathew Galang said she was disappointed that those at the community-based rehabilitation centre (PPDK), which she had attended since 2010, asked her to stay at home instead because she could not do any of the daily activities.

“Sheirviana was considered ‘bedridden disabled’, so she could not do anything at the centre – she had no record in completing any of the activities.

“So, she was quite disappointed; she had no friends; she felt lonely.

“I thought at that time, she just lost her sense of purpose,” he said, adding that regardless of the situation, the PPDK had been in constant contact with the family.

Mathew said he and his wife Rose Galau always tried to make Sheirviana happy and one of the things that they did was taking her out for shopping or a walk.

They would go for a stroll around the Star Megamall during the weekend.

“One day, the Sibu Spinal Cord Injury Association was playing boccia at the mall.

“The president of the association saw us and asked if Sheirviana was my daughter – I said ‘yes’.

“He then asked for my phone number and asked if they could recruit her to play boccia because they were looking for players in the Boccia BC3 category, and I agreed,” he said, admitting that at the time neither he, Rose nor Sheirviana had ever heard the word ‘boccia’ – much less the game’s ‘BC3 category’.

‘Practising in kitchen’

He soon found out that this very category referred to players with significant limitations in the arm and leg functions, with poor or no trunk control.

In this regard, those in the BC3 group are unable to consistently grasp, release and/or propel the ball consistently into the field of play and thus, they are allowed to use a ramp with the help of a ramp operator.

Mathew later became Sheirviana’s ramp operator.

He said after having signed his daughter up, they waited for someone to send them the ramp and the balls.

“We had to wait; the equipment’s very expensive. The ramp itself cost about RM10,000.”

After receiving the equipment, they began by playing in the kitchen of their house in Sibu Jaya. A few trials and errors later, they knew that Sheirviana needed a proper lesson on how to play boccia.

In 2021, they went to Kuching to meet a coach and following that, they undertook a weekend lesson.

“We did not have a coach in Sibu. What we did was taking a video of us playing boccia in our kitchen, which we sent it to the coach.

“The coach then gave us his feedback what we could improve.

“This has been the way we train,” he said.

‘Road to Sukma’

Mathew, a truck driver, decided to apply for unpaid leave so that he could focus on his daughter’s training.

Rose also helped out by making ‘kueh’ (local cakes) and selling them at the market.

Still, Mathew said despite the limitations involved in using the home kitchen as their training court, Sheirviana managed to compete in the June’s National Circuit I.

It was upon their return from Kuala Lumpur that the Azman Hashim Community Sports Centre in Sibu Jaya had just been officially opened.

“We went there to ask permission to use the centre’s badminton court for training.

“The person-in-charge asked me to write a letter to Amcorp.

“Long story short, after much waiting, the company allowed us to use the court for free – but only us, and no other people.

“We agreed,” he recalled.

Having received the company’s permission, Sheirviana would go for training three to four times a week as she prepared for Circuit II and Sukma.

“The coach in Kuching did advise us to not let her train for too long, not only to avoid tiring her but also to avoid any injury.

“Other than this, Amcorp has been giving her tons of encouragement as well,” said Mathew.

‘Importance of teamwork’

Boccia can be ‘quite tricky’, according to Sheirviana, because with her being unable hold the ball, she has to depend on her father, the ramp operator.

“He always gets confused; sometimes, I also get confused between left and right.”

For Mathew, though, the most important parts of his job are listening to Sheirviana’s instructions and operating the ramp the best he can.

“I cannot say anything; I cannot look at the field. I must constantly face her, and wait for her instructions on how she wants me to operate the ramp.

“Basically, I am her ‘arms’.”

In the game, Mathew said they must play within the allocated box.

“The box is quite small and once we’re in play, we only have six minutes to finish the game.

“The higher the ramp, the harder it is to adjust,” he said.

It was during the competition that they saw the other contestants having much better equipment than Sheirviana’s.

Many even commented that Sheirviana’s wheelchair was ‘too small’, pointing out that it could be dangerous for her, said Mathew.

“Nevertheless, we’re grateful for the equipment courtesy of the generosity of the state’s boccia association.

“That said, I believe Sheirviana is a competitive person, and I think if she had better equipment, she could do even better,” he added.

Many people had told the family that with hard work, perseverance and determination, Sheirviana could potentially become an international player.

Her advantage would be her ability to communicate verbally.

However, Sheirviana said the focus for now would be to keep on training hard.

“I think she does not want to put any high hopes because of what’s lacking – there’s nothing else that we can do,” said Mathew.

“Regardless of anything, we’re very proud of her”

Mathew admitted that after Sheirviana finished secondary school, they just did not know what to do.

“So, to see her achievements is something we did not expect then; honestly, we did not think that she could go this far,” he said.

Meanwhile, founder and president of Wishesland Sibu, Kevin Yeo, said the association would want to help Sheirviana as much as possible.

“We could try asking for donations so that at least, she would get better equipment.

“For now, all of the equipment currently in use are on loan to them, as the family cannot afford to acquire.

“The ramp itself costs around US$2,000,” said Yeo.