Asean Para Games: Team Singapore contingent feted for record performance

Jason Chee, who won his first individual gold medal in Kuala Lumpur, sharing a quiet hug with his dad at Changi Airport Terminal 2.
Jason Chee, who won his first individual gold medal in Kuala Lumpur, sharing a quiet hug with his dad at Changi Airport Terminal 2. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

SINGAPORE - His stirring Asean Para Games (APG) triumph against formidable odds captured the hearts of Singaporeans.

So, fittingly, para-table tennis player Jason Chee, who won his first individual gold medal in Kuala Lumpur, received the loudest cheers and the warmest congratulations when the Singapore contingent returned home at Changi Airport Terminal 2 on Sunday (Sept 24).

The 34-year-old navy serviceman smiled and shook hands with his supporters, and then shared a quiet hug with his 75-year-old dad, Chee Kwok Chor.

True to his humble demeanour, he rattled off a long list of names to thank when asked what his gold medal meant to him.

"It's an amazing feeling. Thanks to my coaches and team-mates, and chef de mission and all the volunteers and caregivers for their support," said Chee, who won in the men's singles Class 2 event.

"Even the supporters that came to KL who took the time and effort to support us. Without their support, we can't do as well. Their enormous support is wonderful."

Chee,  who lost both his legs, left arm and three fingers on his right hand in a navy ship accident in 2012, has endured "a very difficult year" by his own reckoning, after losing his right eye to cancer four months ago.

Despite the loss, Chee said: "I told myself, day by day, life has to go on."

Yet, as he struggled to hit routine shots after the loss of his eye, few would have backed him to improve on the individual silver he won at the 2015 APG on home soil. However, his battling qualities served him in good stead as he defeated his Thai arch-rival for a cherished gold.

While his triumph inspired many, Singapore's other para-athletes also had many little victories of their own to savour, as they won 50 medals in KL, the Republic's largest away APG haul.

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin was among the welcoming party on Sunday, effusively greeting each athlete as they entered the arrival hall.

He also spoke to many of their family members and friends while waiting for the para-athletes to arrive, recording the conversations on his phone and later posting up photos on Instagram.

"Much as we celebrate regular sports, I think the recognition is important for our para-athletes as well," said Mr Tan.

"More people are aware of the Games and these are all really important steps towards a much more inclusive society."

President Halimah Yacob also joined Mr Tan in praising Team Singapore's para-athletes.

She said in a statement released last night on Facebook: "Congratulations to Team Singapore for the wonderful record medal haul at the 9th Asean Para Games!

"Your efforts have paid off. Many of you also demonstrated great resilience by overcoming personal challenges to get this far," she said in a statement released last night.

"You have inspired us, and we are extremely proud of you."

Chee's triumph was not the only inspiring story from the 2017 contingent. The para-cycling team, making its debut, won 14 medals to match swimming for the highest total from a single sport.

Games chef de mission Shirley Low also pointed to the performance of the boccia team.

"For the first time at the APG, every athlete who went came back with a medal," she said.

"So it's nice for the team, that all of them come back with something."