SINGAPORE - Gritty table tennis player Jason Chee, who won a gold medal in the men's singles Class 2 event at last year's Asean Para Games just four months after losing his right eye to cancer, was named The Straits Times' Athlete of the Year 2017 on Tuesday (March 13).
The 35-year-old, who had also lost both legs, his left arm and three fingers on his right hand in a naval accident in 2012, received his award from Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu in a ceremony at the Mandarin Orchard Singapore hotel.
Chee was nominated alongside Muhamad Ridhwan (boxing), Cheyenne Goh (winter sports), Shayna Ng (bowling) and last year's winner Joseph Schooling (swimming) for the prestigious annual award, which is the only honour that recognises both able-bodied and disabled athletes.
This year also saw the introduction of a new accolade - the ST Young Athlete of the Year award - which was won by former Meridian Junior College (MJC) footballer Justin Hui.
Both awards are backed by F&N's 100Plus.
The 20-year-old midfielder, who plays for S-League club Hougang United, was recognised for his outstanding performance in the schools championships, particularly the National School Games.
During last year's Schools National A Division boys' football championship, he skippered the MJC team and scored a hat-trick in the 3-1 win over Victoria Junior College in the final.
Justin was nominated along with judoka Wang Jinghan of Nanyang Girls' High, gymnast Lincoln Forest Liqht Man of the Singapore Sports School and squash player Kan Weng Yean of Anglo-Chinese School (Independent).
This is the 10th edition of ST Athlete of the Year, which was started in 2008 with swimmer Tao Li the inaugural winner.
Other past winners are swimmer Quah Ting Wen (2009), the national women's table tennis team (2010), badminton player Fu Mingtian (2011), para equestrienne Laurentia Tan (2012), footballer Safuwan Baharudin (2013), swimmer Joseph Schooling (2014, 2016) and para swimmer Yip Pin Xiu (2015).
ST sports editor Lee Yulin, who headed a nine-member judging panel for the 2017 award, said: "This was a strong cohort of nominees but when one considers the power of inspiration, which is a key element of this award, then that makes Jason the obvious choice."
"His stirring tale of meeting setback after setback with fortitude and a never-say-die attitude, is a fine example to all Singaporeans, not just athletes and not just the disabled. That is why we at ST believe he deserves to be named the ST Athlete of the Year.
"As for Justin, he has risked much and sacrificed much as he pursues his passion for football. This, together with his talent and focus, make him a role model for youth athletes and that is why he has been selected as the inaugural Young Athlete of the Year."
Ms Jennifer See, general manager of F&N Foods, said of the main award: “The five nominees have all exhibited strong physical and emotional endurance to attain the pinnacle of sports excellence. Their dedication to bring glory to Singapore and to their sports has inspired us all and filled our hearts with pride and joy.”
On The Straits Times Young Star of the Month and the ST Young Athlete of the Year awards, she said: “Our goal is to play our part in bringing out the best in every young athlete by empowering and inspiring them to outdo themselves in their chosen sport and we are delighted that we now have a platform to recognise and celebrate their successes.”