Asean Para Games: Ex-runner Wong's a smash hit

Despite only one good arm, hard work and determination make him a worthy opponent

Having less than perfect balance was tough initially for Teddy Wong. But getting back to the basics nine years ago when he signed up for beginner badminton classes was an excellent decision and he finally made it to the national squad in 2012.
Having less than perfect balance was tough initially for Teddy Wong. But getting back to the basics nine years ago when he signed up for beginner badminton classes was an excellent decision and he finally made it to the national squad in 2012.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

He could have been a good enough runner as the sport is kinder to his dulled sense of balance.

But Teddy Wong, who suffers from Erb's palsy, is guided by pride to play badminton instead.

"As a kid, I had very low self-esteem because I always lost out to my able-bodied friends," said the 35-year-old resource management executive. "But badminton gave me my pride back."

Erb's palsy is a paralysis of the arm caused by injury to the main nerves. Wong can hardly move his right arm, which can knock him off balance when he is lunging to return shots.

Games like basketball and football were tough. Running, on the other hand, was easy.

He was routinely among the first to finish the running segment of his National Physical Fitness Award tests. A 400m gold and 800m bronze from his secondary school's sports day are stashed somewhere in his Woodlands home.




    Men’s team: Jovenn Siow (SL4 singles), Tay Wei Ming, Teddy Wong Ling Hoei (SU5 singles/doubles), Kelvin Pung, Lee Sek Khim (SU5 doubles).

    LAST APG: The sport was last played at the 2011 edition in Indonesia. Then, Singapore’s male shuttlers won a singles gold (standing) and a doubles silver (standing).

    ABOUT THE SPORT: The rules are the same as in regular badminton, with the only difference being the court size. Singles players for the standing sport class and wheelchair sport class play half-court. The sport will also make its debut at the 2020 Paralympic Games.

    CLASSIFICATION: Players are divided into three classes: wheelchair (WH1 & WH2), standing (SL 3, SL4 & SU5), and short stature (SS6). Within the first two classes, they are further divided based on the severity of their impairment.

Yet his passion was always badminton, because it could be played with one hand. More importantly, Wong knew deep inside that he stood a chance at matching his able-bodied peers if he trained hard enough.

"Knowing I could play on the same level as them really motivated me," he said.

Nowadays, Wong jokes, he is the one taking it easy against his friends. Yet it was not always the case. While it is hard to distinguish him from his able-bodied peers, this cloak of normality was not a blessing, as he soon realised.

Said the father of one: "Growing up, when I struggled in sports, the other kids couldn't understand why I wasn't able to compete.

"They just thought I was lousy."

The cruel jibes came in thick and fast, as Wong suffered incessant taunts of "can fei" and "lan" (cripple and lousy, in Mandarin respectively).

His childhood was punctuated by memories of running home in tears to his late mother.

"Why me?" he would bawl.

Her reply, which now seems prescient, was: "Move on. You'll find something you are good at."

When he was 25, Wong mustered the courage to join badminton groups found on Internet forums, only to face rejection again.

Many of those players were far more skilled than him, and their patience wore out faster than a shuttlecock in a rally.

"It reached a point where nobody wanted to partner me. I got benched during matches. When I stepped on the court, people came out for breaks," said Wong, the youngest of three children.

This time though, the ridicule he suffered came in handy. "I was just determined to get better," he said.

So he went back to the start, and signed up for beginner badminton classes, where he was grouped with kids.

"I was 26; they were eight or 10," he recalled. They would hit shots all over the court and laugh as he fell. No problem, because by this point, nothing could get to him.

In 2012, after years of hard graft in the sport, Wong joined the national para set-up under the tutelage of coach Simon Koh, whom he credits with raising his game. And now Wong is set to make his Asean Para Games debut.

Koh, a former national shuttler, refrains from making a medal prediction, and Wong simply said: "It's difficult to say, but I will give my opponents their hardest time. Representing Singapore was something I didn't even dare dream about. So I don't feel pressure, I'm just proud and honoured."

These days, his sense of pride also stems from watching his seven-year-old daughter Michelle pick up the racket.

"I teach her as much as I can in my free time. She's a fast learner, and I'm proud of that."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2015, with the headline 'Ex-runner Wong's a smash hit'. Print Edition | Subscribe