Para-cyclist Tee and pilot Ang going beyond the cycling track
Visually impaired cyclist Tee and his pilot Ang aim to continue their partnership after the Paralympics and help people with disabilities try new sports
The first time para-cyclist Steve Tee met his pilot Ang Kee Meng in 2017, the visually impaired national athlete asked to feel his legs, after being reassured by his then-coach Christian Stauffer that the former national cyclist was a strong guy with big legs who would look out for him.
Over four years on from that striking first meeting, and on the cusp of their Paralympic debut today, the pair's partnership has evolved to the stage that they have plans to work in tandem beyond two wheels.
In tandem para-cycling, two athletes share a customised bicycle, with the visually impaired one, the stoker, behind his sighted teammate, the pilot.
Despite joking that they already spend too much time together, after Tokyo 2020, the pair hope to set up a social outreach programme to help people with disabilities broaden their horizons by getting them to try new sports and activities.
Describing Tee, 40, as "a funny older brother", Ang, 34, recounted their first time sharing a room when they went overseas for a competition.
He said: "I woke up in the middle of the night because his phone's ringtone... it goes like this, 'muhuhahaha'.
"Imagine hearing that at 3am... It kind of freaked me out. It happened quite a few times but I didn't know where this sound is coming from."
"After that, I found out it was his phone. I nearly took a pillow and stuffed it on his face," he joked.
Tee is among 10 Paralympians who will be flying Singapore's flag at the Games, which opened yesterday and will end on Sept 5.
With Ang as his partner, he will be competing in two track events - the B 4km individual pursuit and B 1km time trial - as well as the B time trial road race in Tokyo.
The 40-year-old, whose partnership with Ang has seen him named Sportsman of the Year (Resilience) at the Singapore Disability Sports Awards this month, was assured in declaring his Tokyo target. He wants to better the duo's 4min 47.414sec personal best in their pet 4km event and finish among the top three in Asia.
That confidence seems a comfortable fit for someone with the boldness to sport an unmistakable mop of hair which glows with a reddish-orange hue - which was not his intended colour effect but has since been embraced as part of his "vibrant personality".
But the trail to Tokyo has not been without its bumps.
Last August, Tee twice injured his back during gym sessions, forcing him to have surgery and spend three months rehabilitating before returning to full-time training in February.
Tee, who skippered Singapore's five-a-side visually impaired football team at the 2015 Asean Para Games before switching gears to cycling, said: "Before the surgery, the physio and the doctor told me that I may not be able to get back to where I was before, but I didn't believe them because I've trained so hard over the past two years.
"So I decided to do all the rehab diligently and strengthen my weaker muscles so that I can make a comeback and resume my full-time training."
That steely resolve should come as no surprise considering Tee's resilience.
Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in 2004, he was told by doctors that his vision would eventually deteriorate to total or near-total blindness.
The devastation of that life-changing news floored him for around three weeks. Then on a rainy day, he reached an epiphany.
Awakening to the sound of thunder, Tee realised that he had not eaten all day.
With no one else at home, he picked up an umbrella and made his way to a chicken rice stall 10 minutes away from his house.
It made him realise that, like how the hunger drove him out of the comfort of his home and into the stormy outdoors, hunger in life can fuel him to overcome adversity.
Four years later, he earned a double major degree in computer security and networking. In 2009, he got a job as a call centre supervisor - where he has worked since, before taking a sabbatical in 2019 to focus on the Paralympics.
Since 2015, Tee has also been a public speaker for Glow in the Dark, a social enterprise that offers workshops and motivational talks to schools and companies.