MEAS CHEA, 27, has come a long way - literally - since he lost his leg to a landmine
nine years ago. Last year he twice won marathons for disabled runners, one in Cambodia
and another in Thailand, and he again picked up first prize in another marathon in
Phnom Penh this year.
Four months ago the former soldier, whose first wife left him because he was an amputee,
found himself a new wife. And now that he has become one of seven disabled Cambodians
chosen to train for the Sydney 2000 Paralympics, his biggest concern is leaving his
new bride behind.
"When I am away, only my small niece will look after her. That will be difficult,"
says Chea of his new wife, who is a double leg amputee.
But Chea is confident that his wife will understand - "we love each other heart
to heart," he says - and he's keen for the chance to compete overseas.
"I am proud to have the chance. I am confident with my running.
"If I am successful it will be a credit for Cambodia and also an encouragement
to other disabled people to see that even the disabled can do things...I am really
disabled, but my mind is not."
Chea and six other Cambodians - Nok Rotha, Kim Vanna, Hong Bora, Roeun Voeun, Sak
Oung and Chim Phan - are being given the chance to prove that being limbless need
not mean a life of shame and misery.
The seven have been selected for running training aimed at getting them up to scratch
to compete in the Sydney Paralympics in the Year 2000.
The project is being run by the Cambodia Trust and the Cambodian Disabled People's
Organization, with funding from the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh.
The seven got a major boost last week when they were flown to Malaysia to be given
special artificial legs designed for athletes. They came back enthusiastic and eager
to do their best.
"I want to try, regardless of whether I can do as well as a full-legged person,"
said Kim Vanna, 29, a former soldier who stepped on a mine in 1990.
"I want to be the best runner," said Nok Rotha, 29, "and to help promote
international disabled sports."
"I like sport. I used to be a sports player and since I became handicapped sport
has helped to ease my life."
The seven runners received a total of four high-technology artificial limbs in Malaysia
- they will have to take turns using them - which were donated by manufacturer Endolite
Dudley Turner, chief prosthetist at Cambodia Trust, said the Australian Government
would sponsor a coach to come to Cambodia to train the seven.
If they qualified, all would be sponsored to attend the Sydney competition, he said.
They had already improved their running times since getting the new legs from Malaysia.
"If Cambodian disabled people can become successful in running, it will be very
good for all the disabled in Cambodia because they will think that their lives are
not wasted," Turner said.