by tan yi liang
“Are we giving all our national heroes the respect they deserve? Some still aren’t getting their due.”
Yes. She’s the 16-year old who overcame her visual challenges – she lives with impaired vision – and won the 100m T13 on Dec 4, the 400m T13 on Dec 5 and then the 200m T13 on Sunday Dec 6.
Three gold medals in three days at an international event. A solid achievement for the Form 3 student of SMK Badin of Tuaran, Sabah, especially when you consider the hard work she put in to get those medals.
I spoke to her on Sunday in a phone interview, and Felicia told me that she overcame challenges when she trained all-out to win these medals.
“I trained every day, and I trained intensively for one month before heading to Singapore,” said Felicia, the daughter of farmers from Kampung Kipaku in Tambunan, Sabah
She spoke to me about what kept her going and driven to keep training to win.
“I received moral support and encouragement from my friends and family. I also received help from my school, my teachers also gave me moral support,” said Felicia.
Asked more about her school, Felicia said that SMK Badin is an integrated school, educating students with disabilities and students without disabilities.
Felicia added that while she had been active in athletics from an early age, the Asean Para Games marked the first time she competed in an international sporting competition.
“At first I was not sure if I could win the races. But when I won my first medal in the 100m, I felt confident that I could win the in the following races,” she added.
She also told me that she’s hoping to be part of the Malaysian contingent heading off to the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro
“This depends on my good fortune. If I can, I will go in 2016, but if I can’t I will compete in the Para Games in 2017 which will be held in Malaysia,” said Felicia.
In my humble opinion, Felicia deserves a chance to be considered for the team. She’s put in the effort to get this far, and her hard work has clearly paid off.
Her grit has been reported, a portal quoting Felicia describing how she practiced every day on a grass field, but switched to a proper track at Kota Kinabalu as the Asean Para Games drew nearer.
Truth be told, I think Felicia’s one of those rare Malaysians who can challenge us to push our own boundaries and reexamine our preconceived notions about what we can do as people.
Granted, under the incentive scheme for Asean Para Games medal winners – Felicia will receive RM 20,000 for her first gold medal, and another RM20,000 for her next two – at a rate of RM10,000 for each subsequent gold medal.
Indeed, Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has taken note of Felicia’s victories. He praised her in two Facebook posts on Tuesday and pointed out that in the past, athletes with disabilities only received 30% of what able-bodied athletes did when they won medals
And also, the more I think about her successes and the effort Felicia put in, the rewards she’ll receive as well as Khairy’s words- I am reminded of a promise made by Khairy when he first took up the Youth and Sports portfolio in 2013.
Khairy had promised that Malaysians who won medals in the Paralympics would get the same rewards from the government as those who won medals in the Olympics.
And being one of the journalists who reported on the fight for equality – I can say that those who fought for fair treatment fought hard back when the 2012 Paralympics was taking place in London.
Back then, there was a clear discrepancy which was questioned at the time by non-governmental bodies and activists.
An Olympic silver medalist, such as shuttler Datuk Lee Chong Wei took home RM300,000 and a lifetime monthly pension of RM3,000 while a bronze medalist such as diver Pandelela Rinong Pamg took home RM150,000 and a a life-time monthly pension of RM2,000.
In contrast, a Paralympic silver medalist took home a flat RM 200,000 award while a Paralympic bronze medalist received a RM 100,000 lump sum award. No lifetime pension for the Paralympics medal winners.
And to top it off, people with disabilities need the money more than those who are able-bodied.
For example, assistive technology could help Malaysians like Felicia lead an independent life does not come cheaply. Text-to-speech software – and that’s software that’ll read your emails, webpages, SMS messages, Whatsapp messages for you – it can cost thousands of ringgit.
These items are not luxuries, and this is why those who have worked hard for Malaysia like Felicia really need to be treated with fairness and the respect that is their due. This is why after all he’s said in the media and on Facebook, Khairy has to make good on his 2013 promise of equality.
Indeed, the point of fairness and equality was raised by Malaysian Disabled Development Society president Mohd Faisal Che Yusof.
“We hope that fair incentives can be given to the athletes who participated in the Asean Para Games, and we hope the Minister can be consistent on that matter,” said Mohd Faisal.
Mohd Faisal, who is blind himself said that the Malaysian blind community is proud of Felicia’s achievements and congratulates her for her three gold medals, adding that he hopes Felicia’s successes can be rewarded fairly when compared to other athletes.
He then raised a good point, a reminder to me as a media person.
“As the Asean Para Games was going on, we could see how the Malaysian media treated the games. It seems that the public did not know about the games. It seemed that the media was only focused on the Malaysia Cup and not on the Para Games which was an international event where Malaysia won gold medals,” said Mohd Faisal.
With that said, I’ll ask this – isn’t it time for us to give all Malaysians their due respect? Isn’t it time to give the achievements of all Malaysians their due, including the achievements of Malaysians with disabilities?
I feel it’s time.