Yip Pin Xiu Answers the Famous Proust Questionnaire and More…

Paralympic Swimmer
Text by Wy-Lene Yap; Photography by Yew Jia Jun
November 24, 2017
Become – Trendsetters

Despite being 25 years old, Yip Pin Xiu is wise beyond her age, and has the heart, strength, and attitude of a champion. In person, she wears her success humbly, and channels it purposefully towards changing the mindset of Singaporeans when it comes to people with disabilities and parasports in general.

The most enchanting thing about Pin Xiu is her liveliness—it’s positively infectious and the lethal combination of her zestful smile, makes you feel like you can do anything. Outwardly, her physical appearance shines just as bright as her personality. Wearing a floral dress with au courant prints and a touch of rouge lipstick, Pin Xiu’s natural, girl-next-door beauty is disarming and when she looks at me, I feel a natural inclination to open up, which is often the other way around.

It’s not an everyday affair that we get to talk to a four-time Paralympic medallist. This departure from our usual CEO interviews is meant to portray the strength of a human spirit; one that has no boundaries, limitless, so to speak, which isn’t defined by circumstance. And what better way to delve into the mind of a champion, than by making her answer the Proust Questionnaire.

WY-LENE YAP: What is your current state of mind?

YIP PIN XIU: At this point in time, I am starting to feel a bit more motivated. Honestly, this year has been a bit slow for me, as I have been going through the motions. But I’m feeling a lot better these past few days because I know what my goals are, and what I need to do to achieve them. 

WY-LENE: What are your goals?

PIN XIU: I want a lot of things! I want to get my driving licence, compete in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, and to plan out my life after swimming. I know that it has to start now because by the time I finish swimming and start to think about what I want to do next, it will be too late.

WY-LENE: What is your greatest fear?

PIN XIU: I have different kinds of fear at various stages of my life. When I was younger, it was needles. When I became older, it was the fear of disappointing other people. And now, I think my greatest fear is not being able to lead a fulfilling life.

WY-LENE: What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

PIN XIU: I can be very fickle-minded when it comes to choosing colours, what to wear… small stuff. [laughs] My friends call me an “askhole”. I ask for their advice but I never listen to them.

WY-LENE: What is the trait you most deplore in others?

PIN XIU: I think ‘deplore’ is a very strong word. I dislike it when some people say that they are going to do something but they don’t at all.

WY-LENE: Which living person do you most admire?

PIN XIU: For a period of time, it was my friend, Theresa [Goh]. Another time, it was Michelle Kwan… my coach, Ang Peng Siong… my parents… my siblings…

WY-LENE: What is your greatest extravagance?

PIN XIU: Maybe food? My diet is not that strict as long as I don’t eat any fried or fatty foods. I don’t have to cut down on carbs or protein. In fact, I do have to bulk up. But I love French fries!

WY-LENE: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

PIN XIU: I am a person who is easily contented, so currently, my idea of perfect happiness is being able to sleep in. But 10 years down the road, I want to be happily married and have kids. It has to be the right person though.

WY-LENE: What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

PIN XIU: All virtues are important to me. It just depends on how you look at it that makes it overrated. For example, having determination is applaudable, but if it is channelled towards the wrong goal, then it’s not a good thing. Every virtue has two sides and it’s about finding the proper balance.


WY-LENE: On what occasion do you lie?

PIN XIU: When the lie doesn’t hurt someone.

WY-LENE: So it’s a white lie.

PIN XIU: Yeah, sometimes I lie not to hurt other people’s feelings.

WY-LENE: Which is harder to you: telling someone you love them or telling someone you don’t love them?

PIN XIU: It’s harder for me to tell someone I love them.

WY-LENE: What do you most dislike about your appearance?

PIN XIU: I have very skinny legs.

WY-LENE: Which living person do you most despise?

PIN XIU: I don’t know… I don’t despise anybody.

WY-LENE: What is the quality you most like in a man?

PIN XIU: The first thing that captivates me, is humour.

WY-LENE: What is the quality you most like in a woman?

PIN XIU: Ummm… also humour I guess?

WY-LENE: Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

PIN XIU: I used to say the word “literally” a lot.

WY-LENE: What or who is the greatest love of your life?

PIN XIU: My family.

WY-LENE: When and where were you happiest?

PIN XIU: I find this question very hard to answer because I have had many happy moments—and to pinpoint one is extremely tough. I am generally a happy person; I am very happy when I win a gold medal, when I am travelling or even spending time with my family and friends. 


WY-LENE: Which talent would you most like to have?

PIN XIU: I would like to be able to speak with charisma so that people will listen.

WY-LENE: Really?

PIN XIU: I don’t think that I am commanding enough attention. When I speak in a room full of people, I don’t think they are really listening.       

WY-LENE: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

PIN XIU: I want to have nice hair because my hair is so dry! I know it sounds superficial. [laughs] Okay, I take that back… If I could change one thing, I would change my body so that I don’t have to sleep so much. I need to sleep a lot in order for my body to recover.

WY-LENE: How many hours do you sleep?

PIN XIU: Optimally, 10—before I feel 100% ready for my next training session. But it’s very hard to get 10 hours a night.

WY-LENE: What’s your ideal then?

PIN XIU: 3 hours! [laughs]

WY-LENE: If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?

PIN XIU: I would like to have a dog. It can be part of my family.

WY-LENE: Do you have a breed in mind?

PIN XIU: Maybe a corgi? They are super cute! I want one now.

WY-LENE: What do you consider your greatest achievement?

PIN XIU: Changing the mindset of Singaporeans when it comes to people with disabilities and parasports in general. It works both ways: the able-bodied people must be open-minded, not discriminate or stereotype, and get to know a person with disability for who they truly are. On the other hand, people with disabilities must also make an effort to integrate into society and be who they want to be.

WY-LENE: If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

PIN XIU: I want to be Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds’ kid… just kidding. Okay, I want to come back as somebody who makes an impact on people’s lives.

WY-LENE: Aren’t you doing that right now?

PIN XIU: Yes, and I still want to do that in my next life.

WY-LENE: Where would you most like to live?

PIN XIU: Somewhere surrounded by a lot of greenery. I really like nature. I love going to Scotland and New Zealand because it’s so scenic and somehow I feel very at peace when I’m there.

WY-LENE: What is your most treasured possession?

PIN XIU: I don’t have one in particular. I really like my phone, my wheelchair, and my bed… but I can live without them.


WY-LENE: What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

PIN XIU: [long pause] When people whom I value and care for, lose respect for me because of something that I’ve done.

WY-LENE: What is your favourite occupation?

PIN XIU: I love being an athlete.

WY-LENE: What is your most marked characteristic?

PIN XIU: It’s either my independence or resilience.

WY-LENE: What do you most value in your friends?

PIN XIU: When I need them and they are there for me.

WY-LENE: Who are your favourite writers?

PIN XIU: I don’t have any favourite writers, but I like to read mystery and thriller novels.

WY-LENE: Who is your hero of fiction?

PIN XIU: Daenerys Targaryen—I’m basing it on her characteristics and not her actions.

WY-LENE: Which historical figure do you most identify with?

PIN XIU: I am not very good with history. 

WY-LENE: Who are your heroes in real life?

PIN XIU: My mum.

WY-LENE: What are your favourite names?

PIN XIU: Annabelle or Mae.

WY-LENE: What is it that you most dislike?

PIN XIU: When people blame me for something that I didn’t do. [laughs]

WY-LENE: What is your greatest regret?

PIN XIU: Not being able to find a balance after the Beijing 2008 Paralympics Games. Because I spent so much time training for the Games, my O-level results were pretty bad. So I decided to take a year off from training just to study—and I did well in school. But it took me a really long time to get back into swimming. I stopped for two years I think, and I regret taking that break.

WY-LENE: How would you like to die?

PIN XIU: Not by drowning. Perhaps, peacefully in my sleep?

WY-LENE: What is your motto?

PIN XIU: Don’t worry unnecessarily. Focus on the things within your control.

WY-LENE: Do you feel that you have already reached your peak in swimming after winning 2 gold medals at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio?

PIN XIU: Hopefully not! It’s a nice achievement but I would like to swim faster. If I’m at my peak, I will not find ways to push myself harder.

WY-LENE: I understand that you used to be bullied in primary school. What would you say to anyone who has been bullied now?

PIN XIU: Stand up to your bully. If you can’t, speak to someone who can help you. Don’t keep quiet. There is always a way out. 

WY-LENE: Where do you find yourself most vulnerable?

PIN XIU: When I am with someone that I trust.

WY-LENE: What is one experience you’ve had that you don’t believe anyone else has ever experienced before?

PIN XIU: Hearing our national anthem being played at the Olympic aquatic centre—and it was all because of me. Actually, I’m sure other people have experienced it before. Thereafter, hearing my achievements being announced in Parliament and painting Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s nails red and white. [laughs] I think it was him… or was it Mr Teo Ser Luck? It might be the both of them. It was fun! Maybe I created this memory in my head. [laughs]


WY-LENE: What do you hate being judged for?

PIN XIU: Some people think I should have an image, but I don’t want to be judged for doing things that a 25-year-old girl would normally do.

WY-LENE: What helps you persevere when you feel like giving up?

PIN XIU: I am not someone who gives up easily—when I say that I am going to do something, I will most probably do it. 

WY-LENE: What do you wish people could understand about you?

PIN XIU: My disability does not define me.

WY-LENE: You wrote a book titled The Mermaid Who Became A Champion. Do you think you will write another one soon?

PIN XIU: Yeah! Probably after the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. I think I would have enough stories by then.

WY-LENE: I read that you learnt how to cook last year. If you could have anyone in the world as your dinner guest, who would he or she be?

PIN XIU: Michelle Obama! She’s so cool and she represents a lot of things that I stand for too.

WY-LENE: Last question: What is the best compliment someone can give you?

PIN XIU: That I am as close as one can get to being an ideal human being.