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Navy man’s 1.67m dream

SINGAPORE — The dream is to stand tall and walk like a normal person. Navy serviceman Jason Chee now stands at 1.35m, and some nine months after a horrific shipboard accident that resulted in the loss of both his legs and his left arm, the 30-year-old’s life revolves around centimetres.

SINGAPORE — The dream is to stand tall and walk like a normal person. Navy serviceman Jason Chee now stands at 1.35m, and some nine months after a horrific shipboard accident that resulted in the loss of both his legs and his left arm, the 30-year-old’s life revolves around centimetres.

Five, to be exact, for that is the number that marks each stage of progress in Mr Chee’s quest to reach his pre-accident height of 1.67m.

In July this year, the former weapons systems supervisor was fitted with stubbies, which are foreshortened prostheses used during rehabilitation for bilateral leg amputees. Progress is measured in 5cm increments, with doctors assessing his balance, steadiness and walk before extending the height slowly.

Mr Chee, who now holds the rank of Military Expert 2 in the Republic of Singapore Navy, has progressed from 1.3m since he began working with them.

The road to recovery is expected to take years, but Mr Chee wants to graduate from his training stubbies to full-length prosthetic legs as soon as he can, he told TODAY in an interview at the Thye Hwa Kwan Hospital this week.

“I want to learn fast and get back to my normal height as fast as possible. I don’t want to be dependent on my wheelchair. I want to stand up tall and walk. I want to be fully recovered by next year, and April is my target.”

‘THEY INSPIRE ME EVERY DAY’

The pain Mr Chee has suffered over the last nine months is unimaginable to many. Last December, he was caught between a motorised winch and berthing rope during a routine check on board a warship.

He spent six months in hospital, enduring painful operations and procedures before he was finally discharged in June.

But Mr Chee has moved on stoically. He is also finding inspiration from many people he has learnt of and met since the Dec 10 accident, including Singaporean Paralympian swimmers Theresa Goh and Yip Pin Xiu, equestrian Laurentia Tan, who was a 2008 and 2012 Paralympics medallist, as well as Australian motivational speaker Nick Vujicic, who has no limbs.

He has also struck up a close friendship with former national shooter Aishah Samad — who had all four limbs amputated after contracting a bacteria infection last July — after she contacted him via Facebook.

Said Mr Chee: “After the accident, I woke up in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) and I was very touched because Singaporeans helped me and went to donate blood.

“It was a tough journey for me at first because I wasn’t able to talk, eat or drink with the tubes, but my friends and doctors encouraged me and told me not to give up.

“People like Pin Xiu, Theresa, Nick, Aishah, Dr William Tan (wheelchair athlete) — they inspire me every day. Aishah is very cheerful and positive … her smile is like a flower, when she smiles at me, I just start to smile.

“She tells me that I will follow her wherever she goes. When she gives (motivational) talks, I will go on stage with her. And when I play sports tournaments, she will go together with me to cheer me on.”

NEXT TARGET: 2016 PARALYMPICS

Like his good friend Ms Aishah, Mr Chee has set his sights on representing Singapore in table tennis and shooting at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

A former school paddler and swimmer, he returned to the pool for physiotherapy sessions at the Sengkang Swimming Complex recently and has tried his hand at table tennis, bowling, air rifle, air pistol and hand cycling. He is competing in the ongoing 8th National Disability League organised by the Singapore Disability Sports Council and has won two silver medals in the table tennis men’s singles and mixed singles.

The Arsenal Football Club fan is so serious about his goal that he searched online for videos of paddlers in his disability sport classification. “I did research on the Class 1 athletes at the 2012 London Games … Some of the players are easy for me and I can beat them,” he told TODAY.

“I am not complacent and I want to do my best. Whenever I play table tennis, I will do my research and homework and learn the strengths and weaknesses of my opponents. It is a habit for me.”

Eventually, Mr Chee wants to pursue a mathematics degree at SIM University and return to work in the Navy. But this weekend, he wants to meet his idol, Mr Vujicic, who is in Singapore to speak at a sold-out show today.

Added the budding Paralympian: “I didn’t know about him before my accident. When I was in the ICU at Changi General Hospital, my doctor gave me Nick’s three books. He is definitely an inspiration to me. I want to see him in person and give him a hug.”

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