Sight­less speed

Feli­cia Mikat was born blind and bul­lied as a child, but that didn’t stop her from win­ning three gold medals in the 2015 Asean Para Games.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - R.age -

MALAYSIAN Par­a­lympian Feli­cia Mikat, 18, is now feted na­tion­wide for the three gold medals she brought home from the 8th Asean Para Games in 2015.

But as a young girl, there were no cheer­ing crowds, just jeer­ing chil­dren from her vil­lage in Tam­bunan, Sabah, all be­cause she was blind.

“Be­ing teased for my blind­ness hurt a lot,” she said. “They said things like ‘you can’t play with us, your eyes are weird’.”

Of course, things are dif­fer­ent now that she has her gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 400m race cat­e­gories, even back home with her child­hood tor­men­tors.

“A lot of them now tell me how proud they are of me,” she said with­out a hint of re­sent­ment. “They say they’re proud to have me as a friend.”

Feli­cia was born legally blind, un­der the In­ter­na­tional Blind Sports Fed­er­a­tion’s B3 med­i­cal clas­si­fi­ca­tion for par­a­lympic blind sports.

In lay­man’s terms, if sight could be mea­sured on a scale of one to 10, Feli­cia’s would be some­where around a six.

“I knew I was blind for as long as I can re­mem­ber,” she said. “When I was three, I had to have my right eye op­er­ated on to im­prove its vi­sion, and when I was four, the left.”

Those treat­ments didn’t come easy. Her father worked as a rub­ber tap­per and only earned about RM200 a month. Not enough to sus­tain a fam­ily, let alone pay for med­i­cal treat­ments.

Luck­ily, they re­ceived RM1,800 a month from the gov­ern­ment, al­low­ing them to slowly scrape enough money to­gether to pay for Feli­cia’s treat­ments and sub­se­quent ed­u­ca­tion at a spe­cial needs school in Sabah when she turned seven.

The school was lo­cated four hours away from home, which meant Feli­cia spent months at a time with­out her par­ents.

To over­come her lone­li­ness, she threw her­self into school, and when a teacher sug­gested she try run­ning, she made the sport her life.

Feli­cia may have come a long way from those days, but one thing has re­mained con­stant: her love for run­ning.

“I en­joy it,” she said sim­ply. “It’s syok (ex­hil­a­rat­ing), and the third most im­por­tant thing in my life right now next to god and my fam­ily. I get most of my sup­port from my coach and my ath­lete friends.”

It may seem like fun and games, but the life of an ath­lete, sighted or not, is phys­i­cally de­mand­ing and fraught with risks.

Case in point: Min­utes be­fore the in­ter­view, Feli­cia slipped dur­ing one of her rou­tine train­ing ex­er­cises and twisted her an­kle.

There was a patch of un­even ground which caught her foot as she was jump­ing over a hur­dle.

“That’s the thing about sports,” she said. “You never know when some­thing is go­ing to hap­pen, whether in train­ing or dur­ing a com­pe­ti­tion.”

It can be frus­trat­ing know­ing that some­thing as small as a bumpy patch of grass could de­stroy one’s hopes of sport­ing glory, but Feli­cia takes it all in stride.

“I’ve felt like giv­ing up in the past,” she said. “Es­pe­cially when faced with an ex­er­cise I find dif­fi­cult to do.”

But my coach and friends are al­ways there to en­cour­age me.

“They tell me not to give up, to keep push­ing my­self and be bet­ter, and that I have the po­ten­tial to be the best.”

Feli­cia has some ad­vice of her own for those who bully and tease spe­cial needs chil­dren, as well as the chil­dren them­selves.

“Don’t think that just be­cause you’re able bod­ied, that makes you bet­ter than those who aren’t,” she said.

“And for those on the re­ceiv­ing end of the bul­ly­ing, you have to be strong. Ig­nore what oth­ers say about you and fo­cus on be­ing happy.”

Feli­cia Mikat over­came child­hood bul­ly­ing to be­come the Par­a­lympian she is to­day.

Feli­cia wants to be­come a teacher af­ter grad­u­at­ing from sec­ondary school, but for now, the 2017 Asean Para Games await. — HANSEL KHOO/R.AGE

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