A Determination Far Beyond Sight A Determination Far Beyond Sight

29 Jul 2016

A Determination Far Beyond Sight


Bubbly and outgoing, Sophie Soon may seem like any other 19-year-old you meet. However, her slew of achievements, musically and athletically, bear testament to the determined spirit and hard work of this extraordinary teenager.

Diagnosed with cone rod dystrophy as a child, which results in deteriorating vision that may lead to eventual blindness, Sophie’s visual impairment has not stopped her from pursuing her interests and taking up new challenges. Her flair and passion for the violin saw her performing alongside The Sam Willows at the 2014 President’s Star Charity. She also represented Singapore in swimming at the 2015 ASEAN Para Games where she bagged a personal best timing in the 100m-butterfly event.

These days, Sophie balances her pursuits in music and sport alongside her workload as a business management student at Nanyang Polytechnic. She tells us more.

How do you go about daily life with cone rod dystrophy?

Cone rod dystrophy is the deterioration of retina cells starting with the ‘cones’, which give you day and colour vision followed by the rods, which help you see at night. I have always been happy-go-lucky and my condition is not something I think about that much. I wasn’t responding to things at a young age until they were brought a lot closer to me. For example, when I read, I would put books really close to my face.

I might not be able to take the bus because I can’t see the bus numbers and sometimes have difficulty seeing what’s written on the whiteboard in class. I also sometimes require assistance when I’m out. However, in terms of my morale, I don’t think that it has affected me that much.

How do you keep up with your varied interests and commitments on top of academic studies?

I believe in enjoying life and everything you do. I don’t see the things I have to do as chores but rather areas that that I am interested to pursue further. For example, in school, I really enjoy the subjects that I’m studying and am always up to finding out more. You may not have a choice in some instances. However, in those cases in which you do, you should choose what you have a passion for and commit to it.

At 19 years old, Sophie Soon is an accomplished violinist and represented Singapore in swimming at the 2015 ASEAN Para Games

In the lead up to the ASEAN Para Games, Sophie trained up to six times a week. Photo by Lee Phek Thong / Sports Singapore

During the President's Star Charity in 2014, Sophie got to perform alongside local band The Sam Willows to raise funds for charity.

At her prom night, Sophie performed at her alma mater, CHIJ Secondary with The Sam Willows.

What are some of the life lessons you’ve gained from your pursuits in music and swimming? 

I’ve learnt to be patient because more often than not, when you rush into something, especially for swimming and playing violin, the outcome is never good. For example, I was trying to qualify for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro and rushed my training. I got injured and as a result my progress has slowed. So I think the most important thing is to take time, put in the effort and don’t give up. 

I have also learnt the value of perseverance in tackling challenges which I have faced. In having so many choices, this might lead us to not being able to commit and often we give up easily in order to pursue something else. Exercising self-awareness in what we commit ourselves to helps us to persevere.

What are some of your hopes for future Singapore? 

I think inclusiveness and having a closer-knit community is something that we can all work towards. We need to be more open-minded in accepting people who may seem different. From my experience, people don’t really know how to approach me because of my visual impairment. 

I feel that people should view me as a person who happens to be visually impaired and not a visually-impaired person. It’s different when you say it that way. It makes it seem that I’m labelled to my condition, when it is not my choice to have cone rod dystrophy. I view myself as a person and vision impairment is just one of the aspects of myself. 

You describe yourself as a realist. How does that shape your philosophy in life? 

My motto is to dream big, work hard and have no expectations. The first two parts are self-explanatory but I think ‘no expectations’ has a negative label as it is often mixed up with having counter-expectations. So when I say no expectations, it doesn’t mean that I’m expecting the worst.

For example, if I were to lose a race, I can accept it. While if I were to win, I would be happy.

Sometimes, not anticipating results helps because it frees me from whatever attachments or fears that hold me back. I think we should take things as they come and react accordingly.

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