Physically challenged table tennis players steal the show

ONE lost a leg, another born without an arm, two stricken with polio and the fifth experienced bone deterioration.

Although facing different medical problems, all five band together as a table tennis team to take part in the Asia Pacific Masters Games (APMG) 2018 which is being hosted by Penang.

The five – Ooi Mong Lim, 58, Tony Ng Keng Huat, 54, captain Tan Hwai Wern, 52, Lim Boon Hee, 50, and Peter Lim Chee Shan, 47 – stole the show with their grit and enthusiasm at the Penang Table Tennis Training Centre where the tournament just ended today.

Playing under the OKU (Differently-Abled Persons) banner, Peter said they are very thankful to Pulau Tikus assemblyman Chris Lee Chun Kit for sponsoring them.

Indeed, considering their physical conditions, it was a remarkable feat for Tan and Ooi to reach as far as the last 16 in the individual men’s doubles 50 age group and for the OKU ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams to qualify for the quarter-finals.

Peter making a serve in his match against Sugeng Sudikdo of Indonesia in the team event.

For one-arm Peter, who was born with a congenital defect, he gave Sugeng Sudikdo of Indonesia a tough fight before losing 5-11, 9-11, 3-11 in the team event. He used a handshake grip with his left hand.

“I don’t see myself as abnormal. I’ve beaten normal players before,” said Peter, who switched from playing badminton to table tennis as the shuttle cork game is more strenuous.

“I realised I was different from others when I started school. I was shy, an introvert but I later got over it. I wasn’t teased at school. In fact, some of my classmates helped me carry my schoolbag.”

It was traumatic for Lim 10 years ago. A car crashed into the trishaw he was sitting on and ended with the doctor having to amputate his left leg.

“After I lost my leg, the whole world seemed to crash down around me. I was very depressed and did not want to go out. As time passed, I began to perk up slightly,” said Lim, who plays table tennis by hopping on one leg and a crutch.

(From left) Lim, Ooi, Tan, Ng and Peter, representing the OKU table tennis team, produce an eye-catching performance at the APMG 2018.

Ooi cannot bend his back and move flexibly due to joints problem, as if the ageing process had taken a toll on him.

For both Tan and Ng, they contracted polio at the age of seven and five respectively due to high fever. But despite their legs’ muscle weakness, they shuffle about as quickly as they can to hit the returns.

Tan has done so well that he is the top-ranked Malaysian in the Class 8 and has won two bronze medals in the 2013 SEA Games Paralympics in Myanmar, and a bronze each in the 2015 SEA Games Paralympics in Singapore and the 2017 SEA Games Paralympics in Kuala Lumpur.

Besides that, he also trains others. One of those who comes occasionally for training is eight-year-old Nor Farah, who moves about on a wheelchair.

Tan was formerly an operations manager with Johnson Electric in Hong Kong for four years before returning to Malaysia. He then helped to form the paralympics team in 2012 after being encouraged by an officer from the state Sports and Youth Department. Like Tan, Peter also plays table tennis full-time after his retirement whereas the other three are all businessmen.

“We prepared ourselves for the APMG by practising five days a week at Taman Jajar in Halaman Sri York. The place is ideal for physically challenged people,” said Tan.

“Finding a place for OKU to play table tennis is not easy. The main problems are accessibility and the availability of car parks for us.”

Peter chipped in: “We hope to find sponsorship, be it monetary or  equipment, and a permanent training facility in order for us to continue to excel in table tennis.”

Seeing them play with gusto at the APMG 2018 shows they not only have the ability to rise above their problems but also thrive in the face of adversity.

Story by K.H. Ong

Pix by Adleena Rahayu Ahmad Radzi & K.H. Ong