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Disabled duo defy odds to become sports champs

Update: September, 16/2014 - 10:02
Disabled athlete Pham Hong Thuc on the track. Being in wheelchairs does not eliminate him and his wife Hoang Hong Kien from their pursuit of happiness. — Photo provided.

by Phan Duong

HA NOI (VNS) — Being in wheelchairs does not prevent athletes Pham Hong Thuc and Hoang Hong Kien from being happy in life and on the sports track.

Considered the golden couple of Viet Nam's paralympians, they have won many prizes for the country in recent years, inspiring people with physical handicaps.

The wall of their rented home in Nam Tu Liem District in Ha Noi is laden with medals and certificate of recognition that the couple has won in various competitions.

In the mornings, Kien prepares breakfast for her husband and five-year-old son. She moves around in a wheelchair or on the floor using only her legs and hands. Her body was paralysed after a fever when she was four months old.

Thuc helps his wife with cooking and washing clothes. His legs were amputated below the knee after a train accident when he was 14.

All of the items in the house are placed low so they can easily reach them.

Born in Gia Lam District, life collapsed for Thuc after the train accident. He dropped out of school and did various temporary jobs to make ends meet, such as raising cattles and fixing bicycles.

In 2002, when the Khuc Hao Sports Centre was recruiting people for the ASEAN Paragames 2 to be held in Viet Nam in December 2003, Thuc registered as an athlete and passed. Despite losing both legs, he was considered to have the skill and physical strength for wheelchair racing.

"Since getting involved in sports, I feel life has more meaning," Thuc said. "I feel like my life has turned around the corner. I practice from 5am to 11am every day. As an athlete, I can earn enough money from big competitions to live by."

Thuc won two silver medals for Viet Nam at the Paragames 2. It was also where he met Kien, his future partner.

Kien's mother was single and had to raise three children in Dinh Lap District, Lang Son Province. Kien never went to school because she caught paralysis when she was four months' old.

"My childhood years were sad. I was laughed at and mocked at," she said.

When she was 20, Kien left her home town for Ha Noi without her family's consent. She was accepted to the Ha Dong District Association of Blind People to sell toothpicks and brooms.

Every day, she carried dozens of brooms and packages of toothpicks in her wheelchair to every corner of the city. Her hands suffered heavy bruises from pushing long hours to sell the stuff.

In June 2003, she had a traffic accident, but fortunately, only her wheelchair was broken. She was offered a new chair by the Khuc Hao Sports Centre. Later, a coach invited her to participate in wheelchair racing.

"From then on, my day started at 2am in the morning to propel my wheelchair 11km to Hang Day Stadium and started my training at 5am," she said. "Then I drove around the city to sell more brooms and tooth picks. At the end of each day, I was completely drained out."

She also got two gold medals in wheelchair racing and a prize of VND30 million (US$1,400). "I built a house for my parents back home after ours got swept away by floods," she said.

After meeting at the ASEAN ParaGames competition in 2003, the couple got married in 2004. To save money, they did not hold a wedding ceremony.

To make ends meet, the couple did a variety of jobs apart from wheelchair racing. In 2006, they opened a factory that produces toothpicks and bamboo brooms, providing jobs for about 20 people with disabilities.

Trinh Thi Lien, deputy chairwoman of Ha Dong Town Business Association for Women Entrepreneurs, said she met the couple when they sang at a local contest.

"I am always amazed that they are so positive. They are role models for others with disabilities," she said.

Lien knew the couple had no photos from their wedding because they felt they would not look good. So she paid for a wedding-photo shoot done and a family portrait.

On the track, since 2007, Kien has won more than 10 prizes in various competitions throughout Asia. Thuc has also has won national competitions.

In 2008, Kien became pregnant and the couple had a healthy boy. For a couple with such disabilities, the nine-month wait was difficult.

Now, Thuc goes training every day while Kien carries her son to school and distributes bamboo brooms and chopsticks to sellers. Kien is also the chairwoman of a local club for women with disabilities. After giving birth, she was no longer strong enough for international competition.

But she is not discouraged. "I feel that my family has made up for what I have lost," she said. — VNS

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