Visually-Impaired Couple to Challenge Mt Fuji


Most would consider climbing a mountain no mean feat, but visually-impaired married couple Jessen Ng, 57, and Emily Lee, 49, will take up the challenge of climbing Mt Fuji this August. Towering at 3,776 metres tall, Mt Fuji is an iconic mountain in Japan and a popular destination for climbers around the globe. They are among the 10 special needs climbers taking part in the YMCA Inclusive Climb 2019 happening from 28 to 31 August, a part of the Y Camp Challenge that aims to strengthen people with special needs by building their confidence and independence.

The YMCA Inclusive Climb 2019 also serves as a platform of advocacy for many of the special needs climbers, who wish to show others that they, too, are able to achieve great heights with perseverance and determination. “Sometimes, when we go out, people make comments like ‘why go out? It is safer to stay at home’. They think that it is dangerous to partake in sports without sight, but it is actually all about practice, having adequate training and being confident.” said Emily.

The couple have previously represented Singapore in the ASEAN Para Games (APG) for tandem cycling and for Emily, goalball as well. While now retired from sports, they still enjoy the outdoors and look forward to the climb this August. Their training includes taking part in the Community Chest Heartstrings Walk 2019, which had participants racing up 57 storeys to reach the Marina Bay Sands SkyPark.

Emily is excited to climb Mt Fuji but admits that it can be challenging. She said, “Due to the uneven, rocky terrain, it can be difficult. After climbing all the way up, there is then the challenge of coming down, which requires more control to avoid falling.”. She will be accompanied by a “buddy”, who will describe her environment to her and aid her directionally. She describes her guide as her eyes and is confident she will complete the task with support from her “buddy”.

Her confidence is well-founded considering her journey in sports and the accomplishments she has realised so far. While her husband is partially blind and can see things from a short distance in blurry shades, Emily lost her sight completely at the age of 28 due to retina detachment. Prior to losing her sight, Emily was active and loved cycling so much she would borrow her brother’s bicycle in secret as her father disapproved of her cycling due to safety concerns.

She said, “I loved to go to East Coast Park to ride. I liked to race when I was cycling and enjoyed overtaking people. I also liked feeling the breeze in my face”. Losing her vision discouraged her from further participation in sports and she found it “difficult to accept the changes” in the first few months. She felt that she could no longer live an active lifestyle despite her love for the outdoors and instead, dedicated her attention to working.

It was only years later when her desire “to get fit again” motivated her to once more try her hand at sports. She returned to pursuing an active lifestyle passionately, taking up goalball and running, eventually taking part in a half marathon. Later, hearing that the Para Cycling Federation of Singapore was starting a tandem cycling team under the Singapore Disability Sports Council, her love for competitive cycling compelled her to join. She participated in the 2015 ASEAN Para Games for goalball and 2017 ASEAN Para Games and 2018 Asian Para Games for tandem cycling. Recently, she is also learning soundball tennis with the support of a dedicated volunteer.

Emily and Jessen will be climbing alongside eight other special needs climbers in this inaugural expedition to Mt Fuji. They include Harun Rahamad and Oh Siew May who have cerebral palsy, twin brothers Phang Jia Xiang and Phang Jia Wei and Vince Tan who have autism, Marc Chiang and Chris Tan who have visual impairments, and James Wong, a bone cancer survivor.

Find out more about the YMCA Inclusive Climb and how you can be a part of it here!


Contributed by Sim Yu Xiang.