For an able-bodied person, taking a swim is nothing out of the ordinary, but for Sam Pheng, who is missing both of his legs from just below the knee, his aquatic abilities are something quite remarkable.
Confined daily to a wheelchair, Sam Pheng, 46, does not let his disability hamper his spirits, nor weaken his determination to push his body to its limits.
Residing today in Preak Anhanh village, Preak Anhanh commune in the Mok Kompol district of Kandal province, Sam Pheng in 1988 joined the Cambodian military in the Svay Sisophon district of Battambang province. After just three months of service, he and his military garrison were sent to patrol an area near the Thai-Cambodia border. It was the mission that changed his life forever as he and his fellow soldiers fell victim to a cluster of landmines, resulting in the loss of both his legs.
“At that time, there were two other soldiers patrolling with me. One of the others lost his hand and both my legs were broken apart below my knees. In short, all of us were injured,” he said, still clearly emotional at the memory.
Due to Sam Pheng’s injuries being sustained while part of the military, he was offered rehabilitation to help him adjust to life in a wheelchair; how to manoeuvre it, how to get himself out of it. It was during this time that Sam Pheng recognised that he took to this setback in a way other injured soldiers around him couldn’t. While the other soldiers stuck with simply going about their business, Sam Pheng discovered he had the strength and energy to perform impressive tricks, both in and out of his wheelchair.
On the day The Post met Sam Pheng in his village, he was racing about in his wheelchair, balancing only on its back wheels, and with a teenage friend teetering, eyes squeezed shut, on his lap.
Puffing after the stunt, Sam Pheng said with a proud smile: “Taking off in my crippled cart, it is not so hard because of my energy. I can hold this cart up easily.”
So in-tune is Sam Pheng with his wheelchair that he won first prize in a 1997 cart racing competition.
Along with his speed-based skills, Sam Pheng can also swim significant distances and perform underwater tasks.
The Post looked on as he easily swam at least 40 metres before duck-diving beneath the surface of the lake to untie a tangled net.
“The disabled who lose both legs are hardly ever to be able to swim,” explains Sam Pheng. “As I trained though, I discovered that I can swim 150 metres without taking a break at all.”
Sam Pheng says that one day he’d like to take his swimming to the next level and compete in national competitions, but as yet has not had the opportunity.
Although Sam Pheng shows inspiring perseverance and a genuine zest for adventure, his life hasn’t always been so full. His parents were both murdered during the Khmer Rouge regime and he says that due to his disability, he never had the opportunity to find a partner and marry. Today, he says he relies on the generosity of villagers to get by on a daily basis.
“I normally move back and forth. Occasionally, I go to reside near the Cambodian-Thai frontier and sometimes I move back to live at Preak Anhanh,” he says, adding that much work is needed to be done by the government to ensure that injured soldiers are able to achieve a quality standard of living.
“I purely hope our government will think about us,” he says.