Against the tide

Sarawakian Paralympic swim­mer Jamery Siga shows the kind of de­ter­mi­na­tion few peo­ple dis­play.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By N. RAMA LO­HAN star2@thes­tar.com.my

“I BE­GAN swim­ming when I was seven-years-old,” re­vealed Par­a­lympian swim­mer Jamery Siga. The Sarawak na­tive had lit­tle to fear wad­ing in the murky wa­ters of his neigh­bour­hood trib­u­tary of Kuala Men­dalam, Lim­bang, years ago ... but things have changed dra­mat­i­cally over the years ... and with po­ten­tially haz­ardous con­se­quences. “There were no croc­o­diles then, but now there are,” he shared with a cheeky smile, set­ting the tone for a heart­warm­ing in­ter­view at the Kom­pleks Ke­ce­mer­lan­gan Sukan Par­alimpik in Kuala Lumpur.

He was hard at work, go­ing through the paces in his se­lected dis­ci­plines of 200m freestyle, 100m back­stroke and 50m but­ter­fly. In the up­com­ing 9th Asean Para Games, Jamery will rep­re­sent Malaysia in the S5 (cere­bral palsy) cat­e­gory.

The Asean Para Games will be held from Sept 17-23, while the SEA Games will take place from Aug 19-30. The Games will co­in­cide with the cel­e­bra­tion of Malaysia’s National Day as well as Malaysia Day. It will be the sixth time that Malaysia hosts the bi­en­nial games. Kuala Lumpur 2017 (KL2017) is the brand name of the 29th SEA Games and the 9th Asean Para Games.

Jamery is shy, and per­haps a lit­tle sen­si­tive of his con­di­tion – his right wrist folds back into his hand, and his right foot is con­vexed. But put the com­mand­ing ath­lete into the wa­ter, and he proves why he is a force to be reck­oned with.

Jamery didn’t get to where he is by way of sym­pa­thy or to­ken in­ter­est – he scored gold in the 100m freestyle at the Sin­ga­pore Asean Para Games in 2015 by sheer grit and de­ter­mi­na­tion, re­cur­ring and driv­ing themes in his life, it seems.

“I be­gan to take things se­ri­ously in 2003, when I rep­re­sented my state in paralympic games ... which I did un­til 2009, af­ter which I joined MSN (National Sports Coun­cil) full-time,” he out­lined his as­cent.

What fas­ci­nated him most about swim­ming events when he be­gan was how quickly win­ners and losers were de­ter­mined. “It takes only a few sec­onds or min­utes to know if you’ve won a medal or not, and I like that,” he said, al­most bash­fully ad­mit­ting his sim­ple ap­proach.

It was his older brother (he is one of four sib­lings, in­clud­ing two sis­ters) who taught him how to glide across the wa­ter. And it was those early lessons that al­lowed him to ply his trade and do it suc­cess­fully, too.

“I started from the bot­tom, and have learnt a lot from my mis­takes. In the first two years, there’s not much you can learn about the sport, but now that I’ve done it for nearly 10 years, I have gained a lot more ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Gru­elling train­ing ses­sions have shaped him into a supreme ath­lete, as there is no slip­shod way to the top of a highly-phys­i­cal sport, in which nearly ev­ery mus­cle in the body has a role to play. His pre-tour­na­ment reg­i­men in­cludes a six-day work­out, from Mon­day to Satur­day. And the days start early, too, with rou­tines al­ter­nat­ing be­tween wa­ter­borne work and weight ses­sions at the gym.

Jamery fan­cies his chances in the but­ter­fly event, a par­tic­u­lar favourite of his. He ad­mits that it’s the most de­mand­ing of the swim­ming dis­ci­plines, but his hard work has primed him. “I’m not good at breast stroke ... that’s my great­est weak­ness,” he of­fered will­ingly and sheep­ishly.

He ac­knowl­edges though that noth­ing in life comes easy, and earn­ing medals is as much about phys­i­cal strength as it is about men­tal power.

“You just can’t swim fast if you don’t have the men­tal strength. I know that if I have de­sire and

de­ter­mi­na­tion, I can ac­com­plish any­thing,” as­serted the 32-yearold.

Jamery has learnt some of his life lessons from his role model, fel­low states­man, swim­mer Daniel Bego, like­wise a spe­cial­ist in the but­ter­fly event. Of course, he also looks up to the all-time great­est, Amer­i­can Michael Phelps, the most dec­o­rated Olympian ever.

“I watched Daniel on TV, and saw him win many medals. It was his faith and drive that got him those medals, so, I want to be like that, too,” Jamery said.

At the up­com­ing Para games, Jamery isn’t merely look­ing to score gold medals – he is also de­ter­mined to beat his best time of 39 sec­onds in the but­ter­fly cat­e­gory. “Sure, I’d like to win the gold, but my pri­or­ity is to beat my best time.”

He has drawn a faith­ful fol­low­ing from very close to home and is re­lent­lessly sup­ported by those who mat­ter most to him.

“All the fam­i­lies in the long house I come from in­spire and en­cour­age me. They don’t see any dis­abil­i­ties in me. They also show their sup­port for me on Face­book,” he shared, paint­ing a lov­ing pic­ture of the iron­clad bond which ex­ists in his com­mu­nity. And much of this love starts with his vil­lage head dad and home­maker mother.

And it’s the love that drives him, as well.

“I want to do this for Malaysia ... I want to make the coun­try proud of us ath­letes.”

The slo­gan on a Tune Talk ad per­fectly de­picts what he is all about, the Ba­hasa Malaysia words trans­lat­ing to: “Dif­fer­ent? Per­haps. Out of the or­di­nary? Def­i­nitely!”

Photo: AZ­MAN GHANI/The Star

Jamery at a swim­ming prac­tice at Kom­pleks Sukan Par­alimpik in Kuala Lumpur. — Pho­tos: AZ­MAN GHANI/ The Star

Jamery’s brother taught him how to swim in a river near his house, which is now croc­o­dile-in­fested.

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