It’s never the differences between people that surprise us. It’s the things that, against all odds, we have in common.— Jodi Picoult, American writer
A new era has dawned for powerlifting in Malaysia — thanks to two Paralympic athletes who brought fame to the nation at the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
The two Sarawakians are Tokyo Paralympic gold medallist Bonnie Bunyau Gustin and silver medallist Jong Yee Khie. Bonnie is also the national powerlifting champion.
Bonnie, 22, who was born in Serian, lifted 228kg in the 72kg category event to break the Paralympics record of 227kg set by Rosool Mohsin from Iraq in Rio 2016.
Meanwhile, Jong, 32, who competed in the men’s 107kg category event, lifted 237kg.
Bonnie was congratulated by Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah and Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah for winning Malaysia’s first gold medal.
In a post uploaded on Istana Negara’s Facebook page, Their Majesties also expressed their joy and pride over the Sarawak-born para-athlete’s feat which has made the nation proud.
“Bonnie’s achievement is very meaningful for the Malaysian contingent and an inspiration to fellow athletes in their hunt for more medals in the biggest Paralympic sporting event,” the statement read.
Many Malaysian leaders, including Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, also congratulated Bonnie and Jong.
Commenting on Jong’s win which came after Bonnie’s victory, Assistant Minister of Youth and Sports Datuk Snowdan Lawan said Sarawak was on its way to becoming a sports powerhouse. He attributed the victories to proper training and adequate facilities. “We are on the right track,” he said.
Snowdan also revealed that Sarawak was now focusing on sports science as a means to support its athletes to succeed in the international sports arena.
Welfare, Community Well-being, Women, Family and Childhood Development Minister Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah said the achievements of Bonnie and Jong had opened the eyes of the society to the capabilities of persons with disabilities (PwDs) and uplifted their dignity and honour.
“They have elevated the name of Malaysia onto the world stage. Not any athlete can reach such a level,” she added in a statement.
Fatimah said the success of these two Sarawak athletes also boosted the spirit of para-athletes in the state who would compete in the Malaysia Games (Sukma) in Johor next year.
“It is hoped that the Sarawak Sukma para-athletes can follow in Bonnie and Jong’s footsteps and achieve success so that Sarawak will again emerge as overall champions for the 14th time,” she said.
There were 22 Malaysian athletes at the Tokyo Paralympics and five of them, including Bonnie and Jong, were from Sarawak.
Before Bonnie’s victory in Tokyo, not many Malaysians knew about powerlifting or paid attention to the sports.
But now, many are paying attention to it. This is especially so after they learnt that Bonnie and Jong would be handsomely awarded for their outstanding performances.
For instance, besides the RM1 million allocated by the Malaysian National Sports Council under Skim Hadiah Kemenangan Sukan (Shakam), Bonnie will be receiving a monthly pension of RM5,000.
He will also be receiving a reward of RM100,000 from a sponsor, FWD Takaful Berhad, and an incentive worth RM50,000 from the Dayak Cultural Foundation.
I do not know exactly how much Jong will be receiving for his extraordinary feat. But under Shakam, as a silver medallist, Jong will get RM300,000. He will also be receiving a monthly pension of RM3,000.
Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah has urged the private sector to also extend incentives to Bonnie and Jong in appreciation of their sacrifices for the country.
Let us not forget that behind every success, there is a lot of hard work, sacrifice and persistence.
I agree wholeheartedly with one CNN reporter, Selina Wang, who pointed out in an article that for the Paralympic athletes at the Tokyo Paralympic Games, the Covid-19 pandemic was just one part of a long journey marked by unbelievable odds, be it severe health challenges, childhood illness, or life-changing injuries from war.
A person of short stature, Bonnei followed his father into Para powerlifting at the age of 15.
Jong, on the other hand, was involved in a motorcycle accident in 2005 in Kuching. His right leg was amputated above the knee as a result of the accident.
He began powerlifting in 2008 after being encouraged to take up the sport by his family.
Both Bonnie and Jong have shown us that success is possible if we work hard and persevere despite the odds.