October 10 is World Mental Health Day and we are commemorating it with a two-part series featuring inspirational Singaporeans whose life fell apart due to life-changing accidents, suffering great loss. Because of their resilience, grit and ability to adjust and move forward, they managed to successfully haul themselves out of the abyss.
Column Editor, Angela May Tan, interviews Sam Subian, former competitive horse jockey, who was in the equestrian circuit for 25 years before he was flung off his horse in 2017, fracturing his spine. The gritty 47-year old is now a Sports Advisor at Decathlon, one of five employees with disabilities working at the sporting goods retailer.
SGLS: You were a jockey since you were 18. How and why did you get into the sport?
Sam: My father, Subian Dalwee was a former competitive jockey. Hence, I was exposed to the sport from an early age and fell in love with it.
SGLS: How did you get injured and how has your recovery been since? What were some of the activities you struggled with after the accident?
Sam: June 13, 2017 was like any other day. I was at the barrier trials with my horse, Silver Spoon, when it stumbled over the line. I was flung onto the track. Silver Spoon died and I fractured my spine, losing mobility on the lower half of my body.
I was sent to the hospital for a 12-hour emergency surgery where 39 screws were inserted around my T3, T4, T5 and T6 vertebrae. I was later admitted to Thye Hua Kwan Hospital, where I received treatment and rehabilitation for two months.
It was tough at first as I had been athletic all my life. After the accident, even basic movements such as hoisting myself from the wheelchair to the hospital bed were a struggle, but due to the care from the medical professionals, I saw improvements daily. For example, I could not even shower on my own at first but now I can and I have learnt to be more independent.
My two-month stay at the rehabilitation facility was humbling. I realised I wasn’t alone in my struggle as there were fellow patients who were also learning how to stand, to walk again. I was inspired by them.
SGLS: How did you feel after the accident? Did you go into a dark place mentally? What were your coping mechanisms?
Sam: I was in the ICU when I first woke up after the accident. I panicked when I realised I couldn’t move my lower body. The first few weeks were the hardest, especially when I understood the severity of my injuries. My greatest fear was that there would be no one to take care of my aging mother. However, my cousin became my rock and was my pillar of strength. Because of her care, love and positive outlook, I pulled through the dark days.
Reframing my mentality has helped greatly in my recovery journey. I am still a work-in-progress.
SGLS: Did you feel that your identity was stripped from you after the accident? How did you cope?
Sam: Coming to terms with not being able to compete again was tough. Hence, I made up my mind to adjust and move forward. I knew I still wanted to be involved with the sport I’d loved since I was a little boy. Decathlon made this possible for me – in a different way. It also has an amazing corporate culture and I am constantly surrounded by positive and like-minded teammates, all of whom love sports.
SGLS: What does your job at Decathlon entail? Do you enjoy your work?
Sam: I am a sports advisor in the horse-riding department, my job is to assist customers who have any questions regarding the sport or equipment. A friend of mine, who was working at Decathlon, introduced me to the team. He knew Decathlon values employees with expertise in sports and thought my experience would be suitable for the role.
I enjoy my work immensely and am very attached to my team at Decathlon Bedok. Even though the commute is long as I live in the West, I look forward to going to work and seeing my colleagues. They are like family to me.
Bonus Q: What words of wisdom would you give to someone else with a life-changing accident such as yours?
Sam: It will be hard at first so take all the time you need to process what happened and to come to terms with your situation. You are the master of your own life and you can still script the next chapter of your story. The world can still be your oyster.
Interview by: Angela May Tan, Column Editor & Writer, SG Lifestyle