A Champion in Our Midst

Thai Final

Even though auto transmission would have been easier for him, Mr. Thai Bach preferred his motorcycle manual. To ride it, his right foot used the brakes as usual, but to shift the gears on the left side of the motorcycle, he used his hand to guide and transfer force down his leg. The actions are so smooth, so unexceptional, no one on the road would have guessed that Mr. Thai’s legs were paresis. And with his disability, Mr. Thai still became a champion.

Born on the 10th of December 1981, Mr. Thai was a normal kid like any other until he was three months old, when a two-week fever robbed him of his fully functional legs. Though faced with a hard road ahead, Ms. Loan Nguyen—Mr. Thai’s mother—poured her heart into raising her child. She worked harder, took more jobs, and with the little pay she had she used it to take care of her son. When Mr. Thai was of schooling age, wanting her son to be like any other kid, Ms. Loan would piggyback him to school every day.

It was Ms. Loan that taught Mr. Thai “the love of life”. Mr. Thai would later answer in an interview that his mother told him: “What’s important is to have a good, happy life. And the things that are unreachable are not needed. And if we want a good, happy life, it has to come from ourselves. If we can’t feel our own happy life, how can somebody else bring it to us?” Mr. Thai lived by that saying, and Ms. Loan had been a constant source of support and love along the way.

But knowing the burden he causes to his mother, Mr. Thai resolved to learn how to walk. And it was while he was practicing with his mother that Mr. Thai met a team of wheelchair racers from the Hanoi Disabled Sport Club. At the time, like many other disabled people, Mr. Thai’s disability adversely affecting his outlook on life. Meeting with these para-athletes, Mr. Thai would later noted: “Even though some has even worse disabilities than mine, they were still happy, and I could feel their vigor for life”. He joined the club in 1997.

Sports changed him. For Mr. Thai, “the negativity in me was replaced by ‘I want to be stronger’, ‘I want to learn more’, and ‘I want to have the means to help people in worse circumstances than myself’”, he said. By the time he had to quit after he broke his arms and legs due to overtraining in 2005, Mr. Thai  had earned 20 gold medals at national competitions at all seven distances of wheelchair racing, and four bronze medals at the first ASEAN Paragames. For a period of time, he was the king of wheelchair racing and news media would call it the reign of Bach Quang Thai.

And it was a reign, because, with his wins on the track, Mr. Thai found a confident smile that wins over anyone else. It was not a smile of a person who is disabled, it was a smile of a person who only has to deal with a persistent minor annoyance. That’s why Mr. Thai liked working at UNIS and riding his motorcycle manual. After he got a degree in economics, he was only working as a teacher substitute here at UNIS before he started helping with the technology department and was soon hired as an official staff. He would comment: “What others can do, I can also do, and I work at UNIS Hanoi because firstly the job is at a level with my capabilities, second is because the job has its pressure and require hard work, because no one favors me, everyone treat me like a normal person, and I have many tasks to do, to accomplish, and I like a job like that.” He would be with us for seven years.

And though most of us would only know him as one of the tech staff, maybe sometimes say hi to him, maybe even one of his many Facebook friends (Mr. Thai had a lot of students as Facebook friends), he was a lot more outside the tech office as well. The founder and president of the Disabled College Student Club of Hanoi, a participant in charity runs (no wheelchair), social work, a photographer, a frequent backpacker to bring gifts for underfunded mountainous schools and children (that’s one of the reasons he likes his cycle manual), a husband, a father. In his own way, Mr. Thai has lived his life as a happy man. He will always be a champion among us.

Mr. Thai Bach had passed away in the late afternoon the 12th April. There will be a memorial for him from 16:30-17:30 today at the Black Box

The sources of this piece are vietbao.vn, thethaovanhoa.vn, xaluan.com, thethao.vnexpress.net, and a video made by a Vietnamese broadcasting station uploaded by Mr. Dung Tran. The quotations have been translated from Vietnamese. The picture of Mr. Thai is used with permission from the family.