Chess master Nguyễn Thị Mỹ Linh will compete for gold medals at the 11th ASEAN Para Games in Indonesia. Photo of Vietnam Paralympic Association
Nguyễn Thị Mỹ Linh has sharpened her skills for five years with the hope of taking an individual crown at the ASEAN Para Games.
Linh is now in Surakarta, Indonesia, ready for the women's B2/3 chess tournament.
Five years ago, Linh came to Kuala Lumpur as a fresh competitor and did an amazing job with two titles in the team standard and rapid chess events before bagging a silver in the individual standard category.
Linh finished behind master Nur Feiqha Maulad Halil of the hosts in the individual standard event. This year, she will still be a tough challenger.
Linh was born a healthy girl in the suburban district of Đan Phượng in Hà Nội in 1995.
But at five years old, she suffered a brain tumour, and an unsuccessful surgery left her visual impaired. Linh had to become familiar with everything again with a vision of just one-tenth of what it was previously.
"I was sad when many of my friends could go to school while I had to stay home. I tried to relax with chess, which I already knew how to play from seeing my older brother playing previously," Linh said. "But these first chess moves were just very tiny steps, mainly for fun."
Nguyễn Thị Mỹ Linh (right) shakes hands with teammate Nguyễn Thị Hồng Châu during their Asian Para Games in Indonesia in 2018. Linh went on to win the first gold medal for Việt Nam. — Photo of Vietnam Paralympic Association
Linh was sent to Nguyễn Đình Chiểu Shool for the blind when she was 10, where she discovered the world through Braille and had her first real lessons in chess
She proved a smart student with excellent results before continuing her studies at Thăng Long High School with regular students.
Despite many challenges, Linh grabbed good results, along with practising more chess.
"The lack of Braille books and experienced teachers teaching visual-impaired students made it hard to learn. I was an auditory learner who prefered to listen, discuss and memorise in class," said Linh, who won second prize in a writing contest about the 40th anniversary of the Việt Nam-Japan relationship in 2012.
Her studies in English and IT also brought her a top prize in the Global IT Challenge for Youth with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific in 2015, which brought her an Outstanding Citizen of Hà Nội award.
However, chess was still her number one passion.
"I couldn't see clearly like a normal person. Everything was dim under my eyes. It created a lot of trouble for me when playing. Instead of looking at the board, visually-impaired athletes have to use their hands to feel, imagine, memorise the chessboard and pieces, and record the moves," Linh said.
"Apart from the coaches' guidance, I had to self-learn to improve my ability. Now, I can manage the games with my imagination. By touching, I know which move has been made and make a suitable move back."
A talented player
In 2015, Linh grabbed her first silver and bronze medals at the national tournament for visually-impaired athletes. Two years later, she became a national team member at the age of 22.
Her international debut was at the Kuala Lumpur's ninth Para Games, where she won two golds and one silver.
Nguyễn Thị Mỹ Linh (right) and teammates and coach at her Para Games debut in 2017 in Malaysia where she pocketed two golds and one silver. — Photo qdnd.vn
A year later, Linh made history for Việt Nam when she beat several powerful rivals to earn a first-ever individual gold medal from the Asian Para Games.
Talking about the milestone, coach Bùi Quang Vũ said it was an unexpected, fantastic result. Linh had to face international masters who had won world championship titles. But Linh, who took part in the continent-level event for the first time, made the top of the podium.
"Linh is a smart girl and an athlete with a special personality," coach Vũ said.
"She is a good player who can manage games really well, and her solid mind helps her a lot when playing against strong rivals."
Returning home, Linh was honoured among the five best athletes with disability of 2018 by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and received a third-class Labour Order from President Nguyễn Phú Trọng.
In 2019 the 10th ASEAN Para Games was not organised as the hosts, the Philippines, met with problems with finance and logistics. Later, the COVID-19 pandemic spread widely, forcing many tournaments to be cancelled. Linh could not compete in any international competitions.
But during that time, she participated in many community activities, such as raising funds for free surgery for poor children with eye diseases. She also graduated from the University of Languages and International Studies with a bachelor's degree in English language.
She hopes to be a teacher at her first school to become a good guide for visually-impaired students.
Nguyễn Thị Mỹ Linh (left) and coach Bùi Quang Vũ are ready for their second Para Games that they have waited for five years. — Photo vanhoa.vn
In the next few days, Linh will represent Việt Nam to compete for national pride, but she has also set a personal target of her own.
"My most memorable tournament was the first national event in 2015. The most moving moment was seeing the national flag raised high in the victory ceremony in the 2018 Games. No feeling is better than that. I will try my best to make it happen again," she said.
"My disability may not be unfortunate but actually a strong force for me to grow and find my place in society. If I hadn't been like this, I wouldn't have grabbed such achievements." VNS