Down But Not Out

Jason Chee back at work 18 months after a terrible accident.

Jason Chee was working in the Republic of Singapore Navy with a rank of Military Expert-2. In December 2012, while on board the RSS Endeavour, he suffered a serious accident when he was caught between a motorized winch and a berthing rope he was checking on. Chee lost both his legs, his left arm (with his dominant left hand), one whole right finger and parts of two other right fingers. But 18 months later, Chee was back at work with the Navy.

In 2017, he was afflicted with eye cancer and had his right eye removed.

Despite all that, Chee played competitive table tennis. In September 2017, he won a gold medal in the men’s individual Class 2 para table tennis event during the 2017 ASEAN Para Games. At the same Games, he also won a bronze in the men’s team Class 1–3 para table tennis event (compared to Class 1–2 in the previous Games, Class 1–3 can feature less impaired para-athletes).

He also enrolled with the Singapore University of Social Sciences to study for a degree in Mathematics.

He even got engaged in March this year.

Tammy Duckworth in her Washington office with her infant daughter, Maile, and Abigail, age three.

Senator Tammy Duckworth is a decorated veteran (Purple Heart) who lost both legs during combat duty in Iraq.

A little less than two years ago, after Duckworth became the Senate’s first member to give birth while in office, Vogue did a profile of her.

When the writer Rebecca Johnson started to ask Duckworth a question about the accident that took her legs, she quickly corrected her. “It wasn’t an accident; those suckers were trying to kill me.”

She also said “I am no hero. The guy who carried me out of there? He’s the hero.”

Duckworth told Johnson, that people always want or try to hide her wheelchair in the pictures taken of her. “I say no!” she said. “I earned this wheelchair. It’s no different from a medal I wear on my chest. Why would I hide it?”

Chee and Duckworth both possess an indomitable spirit. Their attitude caused me to feel shame and reminded me of how I was struggling to go up to Kumgang Mountain in North Korea, in 2011. I had decided to give up half-way. I had every excuse in the world I could think of to stop the ascent. Then, I saw a man with one leg, hobbling up in crutches, at a speed faster than anyone with two legs, and that inspired me to complete my climb.

Chee and Duckworth did more than just trek up a hill. They lost limbs, they nearly died and they could be totally incapacitated and became resigned to a life of defeatism, but they did not allow themselves to be beaten. They did not lay about wallowing in their own self-pity.

Also, these two heroes embody dignity. From them I learn how to be grateful and not resentful, positive and not bitter, focused on the future instead of being stuck in the prison of the past. They are proud not to hide their wounds, not ashamed of their battle scars. They show the world that they had overcome the odds.

That’s a lesson that I, for one, will never stop needing.

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