September winner: Jason Chee

ST Star of the Month: Jason Chee's courage resulted in golden award

Para-table tennis player Jason Chee is the ST Star of the Month for September, for his success at the Asean Para Games in Kuala Lumpur. The navy serviceman made a comeback after he was diagnosed with cancer of the right eye in April, losing his eye t
Para-table tennis player Jason Chee is the ST Star of the Month for September, for his success at the Asean Para Games in Kuala Lumpur. The navy serviceman made a comeback after he was diagnosed with cancer of the right eye in April, losing his eye the following month.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Winning Asean Para Games gold allows paddler to inspire others even more

No fewer than 20 trophies, medals and plaques, evenly spaced out, sit neatly on a tall, white cabinet in Jason Chee's three-room flat in Shunfu.

They tell a story of the life the 34-year-old led before a horrific naval accident in 2012. Each reflects earlier honours for being a swimmer, a javelin thrower, and even a top gun in the navy.

But Chee is visibly prouder, beaming brighter when talking about one specific medal - the one he gained after practically losing everything.

Having already lost both his legs, left arm and three fingers on his right hand in an accident at work on board a ship in 2012, the navy serviceman was diagnosed with cancer of the eye in April this year. Just four months after his right eye was removed, the para-table tennis player was crowned champion in the men's singles Class 2 at the Asean Para Games (APG).

In doing so, Chee earned the gold medal - his first APG title - that he had been denied on home soil at the last Games in 2015, as well as The Straits Times Star of the Month award for his efforts last month.

The award is an extension of ST's Athlete of the Year award, launched in 2008. Both awards are backed by F&N's 100Plus.

It would be easy to assume that Chee's pride in this precious gold - or the TM1-3 team bronze - stems solely from how he defied all imaginable odds.

Yet his satisfaction hails from something else that has less to do with personal achievement, and more to do with the fact that he has been able to inspire others.

He said: "It really wasn't easy to achieve this. After losing my legs, my left arm, and my right eye, I still managed to show people... to get them to look at me as an example.

"Through this medal, I was able to show both the able-bodied and people with disabilities, even more so than before, that no matter how much you've lost, there's always hope.

"There's always a way for you to make something out of it. It wasn't so much about the result, but more about the process, and how I was able to be something of a beacon for people."

So passionate is he about being "a light" for others than despite an already jam-packed schedule filled with work, training and night classes at the Singapore University of Social Sciences where he is pursuing a degree in mathematics, he wants to do more.

Chee recently committed to spending an hour every week at the Yishun Community Hospital, playing table tennis with the patients going through rehabilitation there.

He said: "The thing I've gained the most in the last five years is that I've been able to encourage people with disabilities to get active, to play sports, to exercise together."

ST sports editor Lee Yulin said: "Jason is an exemplary ambassador for disability sport because of his keenness to spread the 'gospel' of para sport.

"But he is also a role model for all athletes, para and able-bodied. His determination to recover while trailing in a match or bounce back from an earlier defeat is a lesson to us all."

PASSING ON HIS MESSAGE

Through this medal, I was able to show both the able-bodied and people with disabilities, even more so than before, that no matter how much you've lost, there's always hope.

JASON CHEE, on what it means to be a beacon of hope to others.

Chee's life in the last five years has been nothing like the one he led before his accident, he admits.

He said: "I was just a normal person before 2012. I went about my routine - went to work, spent time with family and friends - just like any normal Singaporean.

"After 2012, more opportunities came to me. I got the chance to play table tennis for Singapore, interacted with people with disabilities and helped to encourage them.

"I can say that the last five years have been more meaningful than the years before that."

The silverware in his living room will always be a reminder of what Chee used to be able to do, and what he still can do.

But perhaps it is the manner in which he helps others see what they are also capable of, no matter the circumstances, that is the greatest testimony to the life he now leads.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2017, with the headline 'Courage resulted in Golden reward'. Print Edition | Subscribe