Standing steadily without legs

Nguyen Thi Hong was born on March 17th, 1979 in Quang Tri province, the middle of Vietnam. At 4 years old, she suffered from paralysis of her legs.In 2003, an official in her commune suggested her to join a competition in a wheelchair race organized by a district in Quang Tri province. She won a gold medal for the 3,000-meter race. Later, Hong was invited to join the national female weightlifting team, not the wheelchair racing group, in order to compete at the ASEAN Paragames. She won the gold medal in the 47kg category in Asian ParaGames 2003. She now collected more than 20 gold medals and silver medals of many international tournaments. In October 2011, Hong won a bronze medal at a weightlifting championship held in Saudi Arabia. The prize offered her a chance to compete at the Paralympics London 2012. images584610_xh_6

From a paralyzed woman with little education to a woman married to a kind man who dared to ignore the criticism of society, How did Mrs. Nguyen Thi Hong turn her disadvantages into strength to get here today?

I enter her house, which is small and narrow, about 16 square meters. She is there, sitting on the floor, with an appealing smile. She drags her paralyzed legs to make some tea for me. Before that, she turned to her sister and said: “Sis, finish your water and give me the cup then I can pour tea for my guest.” She has only one cup. She also has only one fan. That was why she once again turned to her sister and said, “Sis, can you try to withstand the heat of summer and give the fan for our special guest?” Then I noticed that everything in her house was single. She explained: “I am a frugal woman.” However, even if she had money to buy furniture there was no space to add anything to this house. Nevertheless, I think it is good when people use shared stuff because that can help their affection for each other grow stronger. There is only one thing which is not single here, the laughter of three people: her husband, her son and Nguyen Thi Hong. Yep, this is a house full of laughter….

“I learned how to read so I can read if anyone writes a letter to insult my father”

Being born in Quang Tri, a poor province in Vietnam, Nguyen Thi Hong suffered from paralysis of her legs. On that fateful day, her mother went to sell straw brooms and her father went to work as a tractor driver. She got a fever and when her parents got home they took her to a dispensary. However, it is too late for a cure. Her family could not afford to take her go to a big hospital. They took her to a psychic but that made her worse and her legs were paralyzed.

Spending all day in bed was killing Hong so one day she practiced how to walk. Surprisingly, she could move around in her bed and that made her parents extremely happy. However, a wheelchair was still her main way to get around. When she was 14 years old a charity foundation from America came to visit her and gave her a chance to apprentice with a tailor. One day a little boy came to her house, looked at her and said: “Hey, Hong, if I wrote something to insult your father, I would be sure that you did not know how to read it.” Those words hurt her pride and she asked the charity foundation to give her a chance to go to school instead of being a tailor.

On her first day of school, her classmates laughed at her because of her age. However, she was not frustrated and during most of her school years, she was always one of the top students in her class.

When she finished grade 8 Hong stopped going to school because of her age and she became a tailor. In 2003, she was invited to join a sporting movement in her commune. She won first prize in the competition for wheelchair athletes. She then got into the provincial and national tournaments.

“My legs are paralyzed but my will is not.”

Anyone who has a chance to see her award collection will be jealous of her. At the Para Games Tournament of 2003, Nguyen Thi Hong was entered as a weightlifter because of the lack of athletes in that category. Although that was her first time lifting weights she won second prize and she became a weight athlete.

However, life is a struggle. The department of Sports does not give her anything so she only has money from tournaments. After training, she works as a tailor to make money. Practice and work make her thin but she said: “My legs are paralyzed but my will is not.”

I asked her whether she was afraid her beauty was affected by heavyweight sport. She looked at me and replied in a sad tone: “Yes, I was. My legs are withered and paralyzed. My arms are muscle-bound like a man. I often lay down on the bed and cried a lot. I could not find out what were my faults and blamed God for taking many things from me. However, when I awoke, I looked at my son and my husband. They gave me the motivation to live for them. I realized that if my husband didn’t love my appearance he would not get married to me. Therefore, I need to try my best, win many prizes then my husband can be proud of me.”

A love story with many hurdles

Mrs. Nguyen and her husband have known each other since they were children. He always tried to take care of her and she said that her husband protected her when friends insulted her legs.  In addition, he spent his first salary to buy a bicycle and took her around their village to show her how beautiful it is. That was why she fell in love with him. Unfortunately, both of their relatives forbade a marriage.

She tried to break up with him many times but his faithfulness and kindness completely won her heart. Finally, they decided to leave their hometown and go to Dak Lak (a province in south Vietnam) to build their own family. At the time she was an athlete in Ho Chi Minh city and every time she had a competition she had to take a bus from Dak Lak to Ho Chi Minh city. Her husband became a hired worker for a farmer. After one year, they had a baby. The day she gave birth her husband went to work on the farm. She went to the hospital alone with VND 500.000 in her pocket. That was just enough for hospital fees. In the first month after giving birth, she and her husband ate plain rice with fish sauce to save money to buy milk for their baby.

When her son was a few months old she took him to her hometown to meet his grandparents. However, her relatives looked at her as if she was a depraved woman. She was disappointed and went back to Dak Lak without explaining. She and her husband moved to Ho Chi Minh city because of her job and her husband became an ironworker to help them get more income.

The hope of having their own house

Recently, Mrs. Nguyen stopped working to focus on practicing for the London Paralympic. All household expenditures depend on her husband’s income which is approximately 5 million VND. With that money she needs to spend 1 million for rent, 1 million for her son to study and the rest for other living costs. Unbelievably, they are still happy.

Mrs. Nguyen told me that her family is poor and everything in her house is single but they are always together. Her husband and her son are always in the audience cheering for her at tournaments. Mrs. Nguyen would like to have her own house one day. She then showed me many photos of her family and told some fun stories about them. Through her voice, I could feel the energy inside her thin body….

Vo Thi My Linh

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