|Nguyễn Thị Hồng of Việt Nam (left) plays Mira Jatnikasari of the hosts during their women's B2/B3 chess tournament at the 11th ASEAN ParaGames in Indonesia in August. Photo courtesy of Bùi Quang Vũ|
She never imagined being a sportsperson. She did not even have a second to think about it when she topped the podium. But Nguyễn Thị Hồng with visual impairment has done a great job, winning chess golds at the recent Southeast Asian ParaGames in Indonesia and being nominated to be one of the year's best athletes in 2022.
Hồng was born in 1998 into a family with four siblings in Hiệp Thuận Commune, Phúc Thọ District, a suburb of Hà Nội.
She suffered vision loss because of retinitis pigmentosa, and when she was just 7 years old, she was sent to Nguyễn Đình Chiểu School, a special school for visually impaired students.
Her father had to rent a room near the school to care for and support her. All of his efforts were to bring a better life for the girl.
Her life started a new chapter when a group of volunteers from the Bắc Ninh Sport University of Việt Nam came to train students to play chess.
"I joined their class because many of my friends did. It was difficult for me at first," Hồng told Việt Nam News.
"I had to get familiar with the pieces. I touched them carefully to distinguish them from each other and learnt how they moved. It took me several weeks to recognize the pieces and their moves.
|Special chess board and pieces that Nguyễn Thị Hồng and other masters with visual impairment play during the ParaGames. Hồng has to touch every part to recognize them and learn how they move as the beginning lessons of chess. Photo apg2022.com|
"Later, when I knew how to play, it was a new world for me. The more I played, the more I loved this sport of the mind," she said.
The volunteers found that Hồng was good at chess and introduced her to Hà Nội's chess club for people with disabilities.
"It was in 2014 when Hồng came to us. Her chess knowledge was little, but she showed ability in calculating moves, an iron mind and great determination," said coach Bùi Quang Vũ, who has been accompanying Hồng for many years.
Hồng became an official member of the club in 2016. She has participated in many tournaments since and brought home many medals.
"My idols are the world No 1 Magnus Carlsen of Norway and Vietnamese Grandmaster Lê Quang Liêm. I have learnt a lot from their playing style and tactics," she said.
"I know that in chess, with just a second of loosening my mind, I may lose the game. Therefore, I ask myself to work hard and play hard to earn the best result possible.”
In two years of the pandemic, many people's schedules were strongly affected, and Hồng also suffered. She could not join her club in person, so had to practise online.
However, Hồng did a great job and firmly stepped forward with significant progress.
|Nguyễn Thị Hồng of Việt Nam plays Sirapatvanich Nonglak of Thailand during their women's B2/B3 chess tournament at the 11th ASEAN ParaGames in Indonesia in August. Photo apg2022.com|
At the National Sport Championships for People with Disabilities in April, Hồng successfully grabbed two golds, two silvers and one bronze.
The outstanding performance gave her a berth in the national team for the 11 ASEAN ParaGames in Jakarta in July.
Despite a debut at the regional sports meet, the 24-year-old pocketed five titles, two from individual and three team events.
"I was excited and nervous because it was the first time I competed in a ParaGames," said Hồng.
"I had no idea who my rivals were and how strong they were. But after the first games, I knew they were on the same level as me, and I felt no more nervous.
"I played 18 games in three events at the tournament, and luckily I did not lose a single game," Hồng said.
"When I first started playing chess, I never thought I would be a pro athlete, but I am. I also did not imagine getting a medal, but I tasted emotional moments on the top podiums and sang the national anthem. I felt so proud and cried because of my happiness at that moment. I contributed my humble labour to Việt Nam internationally."
Hồng's outstanding results made her the best female chess master of Việt Nam and the ParaGames.
"It was an amazing result of an athlete who took part in the international competition for the first time. Her achievement was much better than our coaching board expected," coach Vũ said.
"Hồng is a golden hope of Việt Nam in the coming tournament. She will defend her titles at the 12th Games in Cambodia in 2023."
|Nguyễn Thị Hồng (third, right) and teammates at the 11th ASEAN ParaGames in Indonesia in August. Hồng makes an outstanding performance in her first international competition. Photo courtesy of Bùi Quang Vũ|
Back home, Hồng was honoured as one of 50 excellent youths with disabilities who made achievements, contributed to the community's development, and inspired other young people to work for a better life in 2022 by the Central Committee of the Youth Union in September.
She has also been nominated as a candidate for the Victory Cup, the annual national award for the best athletes of the year. The award ceremony will be held in January.
"I am surprised and happy to be a nominee for such a prestigious award. Winning or not, I am still happy with such an honour," said Hồng, who expected to open a chess class of her own to help nurture talented athletes for the future. VNS