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An open letter to Malaysia’s Paralympic heroes

Dear Paralympians,

11/9/2016 – what an incredible day! I’m not even going to attempt to express the variety of emotions we’re all feeling in Malaysia right now. There’s happiness and sheer joy, but there’s also awe, pride and inspiration. It goes without saying that every single one of us back home are immensely proud of you guys for everything that has transpired in Rio de Janeiro. For years, we dreamt of winning a gold medal. We aspired to see the Malaysian flag being raised on the middle pole. We desperately wanted to hear the ‘Negaraku’ being played on the biggest sporting platform on earth.

All through the years, we’d get incredibly close, before being denied of success, right at the death. It happened with our Olympians and it also happened with our Paralympians. But in the last 24 hours, we clinched 3 gold medal. Decades of what seemed like an endless wait, have been effectively put to sleep, by three outstanding feats. Years of frustration, derived from last-gasp denials, nullified by three exceptional individuals. Three gold medals. Wow.

Photo Credit: Twitter
Photo Credit: Twitter

Ridzuan Puzi. That run in Qatar last December, propelled you towards fame and recognition in Malaysia and it would have been easy to drop the ball under such circumstances. But you never happened, did it? You never allowed it to get to you. Instead, you kept your head down and kept pushing over the last nine months. And even under the biggest spotlight you’ve faced, you stayed focused and sealed the gold medal by setting a new Paralympic Games record. Buddy, as romanticized as this may sound, hearing the commentator explode with excitement, as you blazed through the 100m track, will go down in history as one of the greatest Malaysian sporting moment ever. We spent years watching others dominate the track. Yesterday, we saw one of our own make it happen, with the national flag on his chest. 

Photo Credit: cbc.ca
Photo Credit: cbc.ca

Ziyad Zolkefli. Believe it or not, you’ve completely changed the Paralympic scene in Malaysia. As YB Khairy revealed yesterday, your triumph at the World Athletics Championship in 2013 was the turning point in how Malaysia rewarded its’ Paralympic heroes. It was you who convinced YB Khairy to see our Paralympic athletes without any bias. It was you who paved the path and made sports more lucrative and accessible for disabled athletes in Malaysia. If that wasn’t enough, you went out there, broke the world record twice, and helped Malaysia clinch its second ever Paralympic gold medal. According to your dad, an Indian teacher believed in you the most, throughout your schooling era. He also told us that a Chinese teacher spotted your talent and urged you to pursue sports relentlessly. Most incredibly, he also told us you once sold char kuay teow, before taking up sports professionally. You didn’t just win a gold medal, Ziyad – your story shows us what it means to be a Malaysian. 

Photo Credit: Twitter
Photo Credit: Twitter

Abdul Latif Romly. This is where it gets ridiculous. You won the SUKMA gold medal with a personal best distance of 7.46m, beating every other able-bodied athlete in our country. Last night, less than two months since the incredible SUKMA triumph, you set the entire world alight by DESTROYING the world record THRICE, before winning Malaysia’s third gold medal of the night. From 7.46 to 7.47 to 7.54 to 7.60 – that’s an improvement of 0.14 meters in just one day. How does one even do that? The national record for able-bodied long jump is 7.88 and now, you’re just 0.18m behind it. And considering you’re merely 19 years-old, nothing but sheer domination lies ahead, Latif. Thank you for showing what every Malaysian can accomplish, if they’re opt to focus on their strengths and shove their weaknesses aside. Your story is absolutely priceless; I’ll tell you that.

The last 24 hours have been absolutely immense for Malaysia. Our local sports scene will benefit from this, athletes will benefit from this, brands and corporations that have always believed in our local athletes will benefit from this. But the biggest benefactor of this victory is the ‘People with Disabilities’ (PWD) community in Malaysia. 

Let’s face it, shall we? As a nation, we aren’t the most accommodating one when it comes to assisting PWDs. I’m not saying we completely ignore them, but most of you would completely agree that we just don’t do enough to make life comfortable for these people. Existing policies look promising on paper, but they’re still not reaching out a large portion of PWDs out there. In an article that was published in the International Journal of Social Science and Humanity last year, Rezaul Islam labelled the PWD community as ‘one of the most vulnerable of the minority groups in the Malaysian population.’ – a grim depiction of the difficulties they face on a daily basis. 

Despite constant public outcries from NGOs and charity organizations, we continue to discriminate them across various levels. PWDs find it horrendously difficult to access job opportunities, housing, social structures. How many public facilities are ‘PWD-friendly’, outside Kuala Lumpur? How many PWDs occupy big managerial positions across the country? How many PWDs have access to education systems that are designed to help them maximize their learning process? In fact, how many PWDs remain unregistered and undocumented, due to our lackadaisical attitude, in wanting to put as much resources as needed, to track down and assist every PWD out there? This social exclusion, be it a conscious one or a subconscious one, takes a toll on their ability to live and survive, on a daily basis. 


While policies aren’t entirely helping them, we must also realize and accept that we’re consistently failing them, as a society. We refuse to hire PWDs, because we make presumptions about their work ethic. We refuse recognise their problems in school, because we make presumptions about their attitude as kids. We’re skeptical about giving them housing, because we make presumptions about their ability to fulfill financial obligations. We’ve all contributed in making their life difficult, one way or another. 

Ridzuan, Ziyad and Latif – I hope you know what your victories mean to PWDs in our country. We failed you as a country and as a community on a daily basis, but you never gave up. We made life harder for you, but you always battled against the odds. We made conscious and subconscious presumptions about you, but you disproved them all, with every step you took, on the training ground and in the gym. You proved us wrong, every time you went that extra mile, with the national flag on your chest, on the track. And the last 24 hours caps it all off brilliantly. 

Photo Credit: Twitter
Photo Credit: Twitter

Three Gold Medals
Two World Records
One Paralympic Games Record
Three OUTSTANDING individuals. 

I promise you one thing, lads. Your tears on the podium will go a long way in making Malaysia a more comfortable place for every PWD out there. It will go a long way in changing the way our society accepts, accommodates and treats PWDs across the country. It has to. It will. 

Hopefully, there’s more to come from our contingent in the next few days. But for now, thank you, champions. Thank you for opening our eyes.


Yours truly,

A Malaysian

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