Para-athlete Steve Tee shows steely resolve to defy the limits
Visually impaired tandem cyclist's performances earn him nomination for Sportsman of the Year accolade at Singapore Disability Sports Awards
As his vision deteriorated over the years, it would have been easier for para-athlete Steve Tee to just stop playing sports. But he did not.
The avid sportsman, who captained Singapore's five-a-side football team for the visually impaired at the 2015 Asean Para Games, simply refuses to throw in the towel.
In 2017, Tee added another chapter to his sporting accomplishments when he took up tandem para-cycling - with former national cyclist Ang Kee Meng as his pilot.
Tee has a rare disease called retinitis pigmentosa, which will eventually cause total or near-total blindness.
The 39-year-old, who sports fiery red hair, started to lose his sight 16 years ago. His vision has become narrower and blurrier.
His sporting options may be limited, but the switch to tandem para-cycling has opened a new avenue of achievements, including qualification for next year's Tokyo Paralympics.
Tee and Ang's partnership blossomed right from the start, with a bronze in the 24.6km individual time trial at their first major competition - the 2017 Asean Para Games in Kuala Lumpur.
They also won a gold at the Thai Para-Cycling Cup last year and bronzes at the 8th and 9th Para Asian Track Championships (PATC), all in the 4,000m individual pursuit event.
Tee told The New Paper: "I still love football. But cycling has helped me improve my overall fitness, love for myself and my body, and boosted my self-esteem and confidence."
His stellar performances have also earned him a nomination for the Sportsman of the Year accolade at the Singapore Disability Sports Awards, which will be held virtually tomorrow.
"I felt happy and honoured to be nominated, as it shows that the hard work and sacrifices over the past two years have been worth it," he said.
The road to success was not always easy for Tee and Ang, 34.
At the 9th PATC in South Korea last October, they crashed during the qualifying round in the velodrome.
They suffered skin tears and bruises on their bodies and legs.
After quickly tending to their wounds, they continued to race in blood-stained jerseys and qualified for the bronze-medal race.
"It was the lowest point of my cycling career," said Ang.
"At a training camp before the competition, we also crashed twice at the same spot at high speeds. I have never crashed so often in such a short span of time."
But they soldiered on and went on to clinch the bronze, crossing the finishing line a mere 0.28 seconds ahead of locals Kim Jung Been and Kong Min Woo.
Tee said: "We were very happy. Even though it was very painful, we knew that pain is temporary…
"I dedicated the bronze medal to Ang (as it was also) his birthday."
Although Ang brings a wealth of cycling experience to their partnership, he also learnt a lot from training and competing with Tee.
Ang had retired from competitive racing two years earlier, but volunteered to be Tee's pilot on weekends. Soon, he realised that his competing days were not over.
"I had no experience working closely with visually impaired athletes before, and it requires patience and clear communication," said Ang.
"I've been in the sport for a long time and Tee is still at the beginning of his career.
"He has the potential to progress even further and I'll continue to support him through it."
Despite his worsening vision, Tee has not lost his resolve.
He trains six times a week to prepare for the Tokyo Paralympics, under gym instructor Louis Yiau and cycling coach Athena Han.
Said Tee: "Even with my condition, life goes on. I like to focus on solutions, what I can do and defy the limits."
SINGAPORE DISABILITY SPORTS AWARDS NOMINEES*
SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR
1. Eric Foo (para bowling)
2. Kalai Vanen (para powerlifting)
3. Diroy Noordin (para athletics)
4. Thomas Chan (para bowling)
5. Tay Wei Ming (para badminton)
6. Steve Tee (para cycling, with pilot Ang Kee Meng)
SPORTSWOMAN OF THE YEAR
1. Nur Syahidah Alim (para archery)
2. Diane Neo (para bowling)
3. Nur Aini Yasli (para powerlifting)
4. Nurulasyiqah Taha (boccia, with Esther Chok)
5. Claire Toh (para table tennis)
6. Yip Pin Xiu (para swimming)
7. Laurentia Tan (para equestrian)
* Selected categories