Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Disabled team set to conquer tall world

Disabled team set to conquer tall world

Disabled team set to conquer tall world

A group of men sits in the hot morning sun, winding down after two hours of tough

volleyball training. They joke with each other while removing their fluorescent prosthetic

legs.

One player fits a rubber foot onto the end of his prosthetic, covers it with a sock,

then places it in a large sack along with the other "high-tech" limbs.

Alongside is a bag of volleyballs, ready for the afternoon's practice.

The 16 players pounding the concrete court form the national disabled volleyball

team and are currently ranked fourth in the world. They are training for the FESPIC

Games to be held in South Korea in late October, where they will compete against

countries from Asia and the South Pacific in a bid to become the region's best.

Srey Leak, 22, manages the Veterans International Cambodian Disabled Volleyball Program.

She says her team is aiming for gold.

"For training they have high-tech legs that let them jump higher and have more

bend," she explains. "They train six days a week but have to rest on Sundays

because their stumps get sore."

The final 12 man team that will play in South Korea has already been selected: six

men who lost lower-limbs to landmines, two who lost arms the same way, one with a

bullet wound, and three polio victims.

The well-traveled team came second in the 1999 FESPIC Games in Thailand, competed

at the Sydney Paralympics, and went to Slovakia last year. Leak is proud of the team's

achievements and says they have helped overturn negative attitudes towards disabled

people.

"Not many people wanted to talk to them because they were disabled, but now

the team is popular," Leak says. "When they go out people say they recognize

them from the television."

Team member Keam Sokhea, 40, lost a leg to a mine nearly 20 years ago. He says the

team is confident because they know what they are up against.

"We are prepared now because in Sydney and Slovakia we met with very tall teams

like Germany," Sokhea says. "When we shook their hands before the competition

we had to look up to see their faces."

The team recently received assistance from a German government-sponsored coach for

six weeks. The Cambodian coach, Mao Sunly, will now take them to the games.

"Before we picked the players we made sure they could play ball very well and

that they conduct themselves well," Sunly says. "Most of the teams in the

FESPIC games are Asian. We know their techniques so we hope we can get the medal."

In the lead-up to the games, the players are living together for three months in

a wooden house in Chruoy Changvar, on the banks of the Tonle Sap River. On Sundays

they play casual games against local community teams, putting small bets on themselves

to win. They've yet to lose.

"Now the villagers say: 'I won't play with you because I always lose',"

says Leak. "So the players will have to find new competition."

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