Thailand’s Anchaya Ketkeaw racing ahead to win the Gold with a Games record time of 1:35.42 at the Asean Para Games 2015 Women's 100M Breaststroke – SB9 - Timed Final 2 at the OCBC Aquatic Centre on 4 December 2015. Photo: Calvin Teoh / SAPGOC
We like to think we live in enlightened times, where people with disabilities are treated with respect. We like to think that the days of cruel taunts and discrimination are behind us.
When we watch the outstanding athletes at this ASEAN Para Games we feel inspired by their determination and also, perhaps, a sense of some satisfaction that we live in a world where ignorant attitudes to disabilities have been largely overcome.
But sadly, for all the progress that has been made, there remain people with disabilies who still have to deal with insults and ignorance.
Thailand’s 17-year-old Anchaya Ketkeaw, who won seven gold medals in the SM9 classification in swimming at these Games, is one of those people with disabilities who has experienced the sharp tongues of those who, for whatever reason, chose to look down on her and mock her.
“Some people looked down on me as a disabled person, I wanted to prove that I can do something. People looked down on me and said ‘you can’t do much of anything’. I wanted to prove them wrong,” she said.
She certainly did that - seven, golden, times.
“Yes, I think I proved myself here,” she said with a smile.
Ketkeaw, who trains four hours a day for six days each week, said she turned the hateful words into motivation.
“They told me ‘you will never ever do it”, ‘whatever you try to do it is useless,” she said.
“I am a very sensitive person. What people said to me, I kept it and was thinking about it. I just wanted to prove those people that they are wrong, that I can do it.
“The insults and the looking down on me, hurt me, but I wanted to show I am not like they said,” she added.
Her story, she believes contains a lesson for other disabled youngsters facing discriminatory behaviour.
“You don’t do anything other than just try hard, try harder and prove that you can do it and you will see the result,” she said.
Anchaya Ketkeaw(centre) posing with her gold medal in the Prize Presentation for Swimming Women's 100M Backstroke - S9 at OCBC Aquatic Centre. Photo: Andy Chua / SAPGOC
Ketkeaw credits her family for believing in her and giving her the chance to succeed in her chosen sport. Her older sister is her primary guardian now after her mother passed away in primary school and her father died when she was just one year old.
“My family provided the hope for me,” she said.
Reflecting on her remarkable success in Singapore, Ketkeaw said that even though she was delighted with her golden glory, there was a tinge of disappointment that she wasn’t able to find a qualifying time for the Paralympics in Rio.
“I am very happy of course and actually a bit surprised to have won all these gold medals but there is a bit of disappointment too that I wasn’t able to reach the qualifying times for the Paralympics,” she said.
“I hope to get a medal in the Paralympics - that is what my Mum wanted me to achieve,” she said.
The Thai swimmer has targeted the 50 metres freestyle, 100 metres backstroke 100 metres and 100 metres butterfly as the events she believes she can reach a Paralympic qualifying time in.
Even if Rio arrives a little early for her, she is convinced she will make enough progress to qualify for 2020 in Tokyo.
“I will be there, I will be there,” she said with determination.
Whatever the future holds for Ketkeaw she won’t forget the experiences of the past week competitng at the OCBC Aquatic Centre.
“All the swimmers who compete here are my heroes,” she said.
“It has been a wonderful experience here at these Games - you can feel the happiness all around.”