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No stopping visually-impaired para-athlete
Published on: Sunday, April 04, 2021
By: Paul Mu
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Jonathan training at Likas stadium under the guidance of Yee.
VISUALLY-challenged national para-athlete Jonathan Wong Kar Gee truly personifies his famous late grandfather Datuk Seri Wong Kwok’s motto, “Winners never quit, quitters never win”.

Jonathan’s mother, Datuk Susan Wong Siew Guen, said her son possessed strong determination to learn and pursue his goal of winning long jump events whether at regional or international levels despite his poor vision. 

Susan, who is a renowned real estate developer-cum-philanthropist, said Jonathan was a quiet person since he was a baby unlike his other siblings – Vanesa, Melissa and Jason. 

Nobody knew he had eyesight problem even when he entered kindergarten and primary school as the teachers would be baffled to see Jonathan who was seated at the front row just staring at the blackboard without copying a single word.

“The teachers brought this to my attention but I knew Jonathan is a good boy and was not being lazy,” she said.

Sensing something is wrong with his eyesight, Susan and her husband, Datuk Wong Ten An brought Jonathan to see the optometrists but the lenses prescribed could not improve his vision. 

Thus, they took him to an eye specialist in Singapore, who discovered that Jonathan is suffering from Stargardt disease which is a degeneration of the retina. 

“He was eight years old then but having the eyesight of an 80-year-old. The doctor told us presently there is no cure for the disease, and warned that our son could turn blind by the age of 20. 

“We were sad and panicked to hear the doctor’s report. To save our son’s eyesight, we desperately searched for cure or treatment on the Internet,” she said.

The desperation saw Susan and Ten An brought Jonathan to seek treatment in China when he was nine, followed by the United States at 11, London at 14 and Germany at 18. 

It was in Germany that Jonathan underwent the stem cells treatment in a bid to restore his vision. Despite doctors extracting stem bells from his bone marrow and injecting it into his eyes, it still didn’t work.

“It was hard for me to see my son suffer through all these treatments at such a young age,” said Susan.

Since all the treatments don’t show any improvement, Jonathan decided to tell his parents that he could live with the condition and asked them to put a stop to the medical attention. 

“He is a very brave kid. He tries his best to do his work even though he cannot see well,” said Susan.

With strong encouragement from his family, Jonathan adapts well in school and looking at his condition the teachers have no hesitation to accommodate his needs including providing homework and question papers with enlarged font size and extra time during examinations. 

Susan was also proud to see Jonathan has secured a spot in the national contingent bound for the coming Tokyo Paralympics Games which is a dream come true for him and the pinnacle of his athletic career. 

“We would be elated if he wins but even if he loses, we will still be very proud of him. The Paralympics will be an experience of a lifetime for him,” said Susan.

Like any other youth, Jonathan also aspired to further his studies after completing his secondary education at Sabah Tshung Tsin School to follow his sister’s footsteps in pursuing his tertiary education in Melbourne, Australia. 

“As parents, we are surprised and happy at his will to learn but at the same time worried whether he could live independently abroad with impaired vision,” said Susan who flew to Melbourne and found an accommodation near the university for Jonathan to live with his sister Melissa.

Melissa would walk Jonathan to the campus every day to let him get familiar with the route but a year and a half later, he quit and returned to Kota Kinabalu as his vision worsened, thus, affecting his studies.   

Back home, he continued his studies at the Sabah Institute of Arts (SIA) and also privately tutored by Professor Francis Wong who helped him obtain a Bachelor of Science degree for project management from the Inter American University in 2016. 

“Jonathan is handling the marketing and sales in the company (WSG Group) whilst Ten An and myself focused on construction and development. 

“He is an eloquent speaker in both Mandarin and English. His poor eyesight has somehow see him developed a very good memory where all the information are kept in his mind since he could not see and write,” she noted.

Meanwhile, Ten An said the family always tried to make themselves available whenever Jonathan took part major competitions, even in overseas, and took advantage of the time to enjoy vacation. 

“We try to be present for him and share the joy together when he won,” said Ten An who is still searching for the ultimate cure for his son. 

So far, he said Jonathan has been doing very well with his life and work despite his handicap as he has a strong determination to achieve his own targets and vision. 

“He is quite independent on the business side too, requiring little assistance from us,” he said as Jonathan is also very consistent and committed to his goals in sports. 

“There is no easy way to it. You have to practise. Victory does not come naturally, it is the result of hard work,” he said. 

His sister, Melissa quipped that Jonathan is also a song composer which many people are unaware that he composed his own songs and even made music videos of Mandarin love songs and uploaded on YouTube.

“I’m quite surprised because his lyrics are quite professional,” Melissa who recalled how Jonathan coping well with university life in Melbourne during his short stint there. 

“When I am stressed, he would comfort me and he even inspired me to join the university’s sports centre with him,” said Melissa who is happy with foray of Jonathan into para games which had opened their eyes towards para-athletes that they family never knew before.

Jonathan was selected by the National Sports Council to represent Malaysia at the 16th Summer Paralympic Games, scheduled to be held in Tokyo, Japan between August 24 and September 5, 2021.

The national long jumper earned the berth after winning a gold medal at the 2019 Handisport Open World Grand Prix Para Athletic Championship in Paris, after beating the best from Europe including Italy and France as well as Japan.

The soft-spoken athlete, who also won a silver medal in the 2019 World Para Athletics Championship in Dubai, is now eyeing for the top spot in upcoming international para games before heading to Tokyo.

Jumping and leaping from tables, chairs and across drains was always his favourite games ever since he was in primary school, but shyness has impeded him from participating in sports meet.

He only got his break by chance when he was in Year Six when his teacher asked him to partake in the 90-metre hurdles after one of the teams short of runners.

He went on to win a silver medal and the teacher was surprised to see his athleticism. 

The podium finish had also boosted his confidence. 

But there was no place for him in the running events when he entered the Sabah Tshung Tsin Secondary School, perhaps it was a blessing in disguise as it forced him to choose jumping disciplines. 

And he struck gold for triple jump during the school’s sports meet when he was in Form Two and decided to get serious with it the following year under the guidance of the school’s coach and PE teacher, Yee Kwok Wai. 

Soon Jonathan began raking up the medals, including clinching the gold medal for triple jump in the Malaysian Independent School Sports Meet and the Malaysian School Sports Council (MSSD) competition. 

He got to know about Paralympics while watching the games on television in 2016, he was over the moon when his coach told him he was qualified for the games and he went on to represent Malaysia.

 

The Wong family enjoying a family meal together. 

 

Jonathan is much loved by the family ever since he was born. 

Susan and Jonathan discussing the company’s development projects. 

Jonathan chairing a meeting with the staff at WSG Group on the company’s development projects. 





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