Disabled athlete doubles down in duathlon

October 22, 2023 - 07:13
Nguyễn Hồng Lợi will be the first athlete with a disability to take part in the duathlon DNSE Aquaman Vietnam 2023, which consists of swimming and running.


Nguyễn Hồng Lợi spends hours practising to prepare for the Aquaman Vietnam 2023 on October 29 in Bình Thuận Province. Photo courtesy of Nguyễn Hồng Lợi

Jumping into the pool, Nguyễn Hồng Lợi swims leisurely for 200m and rests. He then does an 800m lap before resting again and doing a full 1000m. The action is repeated, and the distance is increased day by day.

Lợi's daily regime is to prepare his fitness for his debut at the DNSE Aquaman Vietnam 2023 later this month

Lợi will be the first athlete with a disability to take part in the duathlon, which consists of swimming and running.

It will be his second time swimming in the sea but his first in a major competition. Lợi has registered for the longest distance of 2km swim and a 21km run at the NovaWorld Phan Thiết event in Bình Thuận Province.

While he is not targeting a top-three finish, he hopes to enjoy the race and inspire more people to follow their dreams.

Talented athlete

Lợi was born in 1987, without both full legs and an atrophied right arm.

He was eager to learn swimming, so he could save himself if he ever fell into any water.

The first day was really challenging for the 18-year-old Lợi as he found it hard to float on the water with only one normal arm.

"I ended up swallowing a lot of water because my body was special and different from everyone else's, so my movements were misaligned and I lost my balance. But I was happy because I was doing what I liked," Lợi said.

Under the help of coaches and with strong determination, he could swim well after just five days.

"I answered my own question and proved to those who looked at me as weird that I could swim despite an imperfect body," he said.

Nguyễn Hồng Lợi will be the first athlete with disabilities to compete in a duathlon event in Việt Nam.

In 2007, Lợi was encouraged and trained to be a professional swimmer. Two years later, he became a national team member. After nearly 14 years of competing, Lợi has collected dozens of medals, including a bronze from the 2014 ASEAN Para Games.

"After many years swimming, my fitness and technique are good, but I still need to be focused and strictly follow a training plan for this competition," said Lợi referring to the Aquaman event which lures in about 1,500 competitors.

"Waves, tides and the weather are obstacles for newbies like me, especially as I swim with one arm. So I have to prepare carefully for everything," he said.

The 36-year-old considers the Aquaman an exciting and challenging opportunity to satisfy his desire to conquer the sea.

Nguyễn Hồng Lợi believes in his swimming ability while he has to try his best in running.

He expects to swim in under one hour and run as fast and far as possible, on his knees as "every hobbled step proves an effort, which can inspire people to join sports, train hard and live more actively."

"Taking part in the Aquaman Vietnam, I will do things that I've never done before. I hope it will be a strong start for me to practise and participate in other duathlon events in the future," he said. "I also hope swimming the sea with thousands of people will erase the boundaries between normal people and people with disabilities. All we can see is sportsmanship, love and effort."

Multi-skilled artist

Like many young people, Lợi was anxious and didn't know how to find a job with his disabilities. Luckily, he met with renowned áo dài (traditional long dress) designer Sĩ Hoàng who taught and trained him to become an áo dài painter.

Among his works, the one that he still remembered was a drawing on the áo dài worn by Miss South Korea during her performance at the Miss Universe 2008 in Việt Nam. The 21-year-old received many complimentary words for the beautiful painting.

Nguyễn Hồng Lợi is also a famed áo dài painter in HCM City.

"Painting pictures on áo dài is my passion, which nurtures my artistic soul. I really respect my job, which has helped me live well and gave me a beautiful wife and a happy family," he said

Lợi met with designer Phan Tường Nghĩa in an áo dài exhibition in 2018. They impressed each other and got married two years later.

They currently have a shop for tailor-made áo dài at the HCM City Áo Dài Museum.

In addition to his painting and designing, Lợi has also made steps in the film industry.

Film director Đặng Lưu Việt Bảo was impressed with the energetic disabled man with a cinematic face. He invited Lợi to play a detective in TV series Chuyện Xứ Dừa, and a homeless man in Truy Đuổi.

Lợi wishes to continue to act if there are suitable roles for him.

Currently, he also helps the nannies in Hòa Bình Orphans Village to take care of the children. He takes them to school and teaches them to swim.

Painting on cloth to make dresses and hand bags is his passion which brings Nguyễn Hồng Lợi artistic soul and happy life.

One of his disciples, Đặng Minh Bằng is now a member of the HCM City team of swimmers with disabilities.

Lợi also dreams of building a pool where he can give free swimming classes to children with disabilities, as annual drowning rates among children are alarming.

“I want to try every precious moment so that my life is not meaningless," Lợi said.

"Learning and knowing many things, I am able to help others, and this is how I find joy in life." VNS