Paralympian Law King Kiew on overcoming a lifetime of challenges
By Jude Toyat
In 1979, at the age of 19, Bintangor-born Law King Kiew had a fall when she was helping her parents at their pepper farm.
Law, the third of eight siblings, was sent to Bintangor Health Clinic, but the doctor did not know the extent of her injuries and she was later sent to Sibu Hospital for further treatment.
She stayed at Sibu Hospital for three months and 20 days, before she was sent to Kuching General Hospital (now known as the Sarawak General Hospital) via cargo ship. At that point in time, she was not aware or alerted to her condition.
“I was admitted to Kuching General Hospital for more than a year,” said Law when met here during the recently concluded 18th Sukma Paralympic Games.
“Eventually, the doctor told me that I got a permanent spinal cord injury, and that I was paralysed from the waist down.”
She then learnt that she would have to use a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
“I was very depressed at that point in time as I was not aware of what it really meant to be heavily dependent on a wheelchair.
“The doctor told me that I would not be able to walk again. This made me very upset and depressed,” said Law.
What didn’t help her younger and more vulnerable self was that the nurses at the hospital were emotionally and verbally abusive.
The nurses at Kuching General Hospital, Law recalls, were continuously saying nasty things to her and other patients with the same injuries.
“They even told me not to carry on and I should just commit suicide because only then would my parents have more time to take care of my younger siblings.
“So, I did what the nurses told me to.”
Law attempted suicide twice by taking sleeping pills.
Having attempted suicide twice and suffering from severe pressure sores, her doctor decided to send her to University Hospital for further treatment, which is when she met the late HRM Storey, founder and president of POCAM (Persatuan Orang Cacat Anggota Malaysia) who paid for all her bills.
Later, he, along with other people she met who lived their lives with wheelchairs, “people who lived a healthy lifestyle, managed to stay positive and were working”, would help inspire her to deal with her situation.
“Just when I thought it was the end of my life, my conscience got the better of me and I became determined to change into a better person. Thankfully, I am still around today,” she said.
After making that decision, Law still had to overcome several issues like the limitation in movement.
“When you are able to walk, there will be no issue for you to walk freely and move around,” she said. “But, when you are in a wheelchair, especially in Sarawak with not many wheelchair-friendly places, you can’t even get out of your own house, what more to say to go to town or to have a cup of coffee? You still need people to help you and this made me very uncomfortable and depressed.”
She acknowledges that her paralysis affects her relationship with those around her.
“This is because all of them are able-bodied, while I am the only one in a wheelchair.
“I cannot really follow them to go anywhere as they have to carry me and my chair, up and down the steps, which is very inconvenient for a lot of people. Therefore, I chose to just stay at home most of the time,” she explained.
Nevertheless, Law keeps her will to live going strong and regards those who share the same fate as her source of motivation.
“The people who motivate me most are not able-bodied walking people, but those in wheelchairs. They come and share their life stories with me and we can connect immediately. It is their positive attitude towards life that I emulate so that I can also live life anew and to the fullest,” she added.
As for her determination to continue living, and her passion in sports, Law has developed into one of the most admired sportswomen in the country.
The now 56-year-old paralympian has been involved and gained glory in many games and championships.
Her first outing was the International Stoke Mandeville Games, England, in 1986, although she was disqualified from the wheelchair racing.
She later focused on working for better financial stability until 1996 when Storey encouraged her to move on to powerlifting, engaging a trainer for her in 1997.
She won her first international medal – a silver for powerlifting.
Today, her credentials include the 1999 International Stoke Mandeville Games, 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games, 2001 ASEAN Para Games, 2002 IPC World Championship, 2002 Far Ear South Pacific International Championship, 2003 International Stoke Mandeville Games, 2003 ASEAN Para Games, 2005 ASEAN Para Games, 2006 Commonwealth Games, 2007 International Stoke Mandeville Games, 2008 ASEAN Para Games, 2009 ASEAN Para Games, 2010 ASEAN Para Games as well as several Malaysian Paralympic Games.
Law was also a top qualifier for 2004 Athens Paralympics but she became very ill, and was hospitalised at Pusat Perubatan Universiti Malaya (PPUM) for eight months.
Although Law was actively involved in powerlifting, an elbow injury a few years ago disqualified her from the sport. Nevertheless, Law went to attend a course and now she is an international referee for powerlifting.
Today, she has competed in various sports, reigning supreme in track and field events namely discus, javelin and shot-put.
“I still regard my greatest achievement was during the 2002 International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Powerlifting Asian Open Championships,” she said. “I became the first Malaysian athlete to win a medal in the history of IPC World Powerlifting Championship that year.”
Ever more challenges
Nevertheless, Law said that one of the major challenges in games and championships were the misunderstanding between people with disabilities (PWDs) and able-bodied individuals.
“The games itself is being run by able-bodied people, and at times there will be lack of understanding between the organiser and PWDs.
“In shot-put, for example, the throwing chair provided by the organiser is not suitable for people with spinal cord injuries like me. It can be used by amputees but not wheelchair-users,” Law said, explaining that those with spinal cord injuries suffer from pressure sores and that she herself suffers from nerve pain, every minute and everyday.
Therefore, Law emphasised that the attitude of the organiser is crucial to the development of paralympic sports.
“Some of the organisers may think that they know better as they are able-bodied. They need to take time to get to know the athletes and their needs better. This includes having proper ramps.
“I am also fed up of complaining because when people do not listen, you just don’t know what to do. Silence is golden. If you keep talking, people will deem you as a busybody who complains too much and they will tend to blacklist you. This happens all year round in Malaysia, especially for people with disabilities (PWD).
“We are not always given opportunities to speak out or to voice our opinion, but instead they want us to follow what they think will fit us and they think is right for us, which at times I am quite upset and depressed about,” she added.
As for sports in the state, Law said that some major improvements have been made.
“Now, I can see that there are lots of young people shines in sport from as early as the age of 13. This is a very good sign for the development of sports in Sarawak,” she said, extending her gratitude to athletics coach, Matthew Chin, for his serious involvement in paralympic sports development.
Also the Sport and Recreational for the Disabled Association Sarawak president, she credited him for his compassion and empathy.
“He is one of those people who seems to understand us best because when we have problems he will come and talk to us for opinions and such, which not many people do.
“He is a source of inspiration for me, and if he continues to lead Sarawak paralympic sport – Sarawak, especially – in athletics, we will move ahead and come out as overall champion for athletics in future,” she said.
It is also important to have proper training to ensure athletes get enough exposure and experience.
“In order to allow the athletes to excel in their sports, they need to have proper strategies planned for year-long training and soon major in their own disciplines,” she said, wishing for the sports association to develop year-long programmes for PWDs to continue training so that in future these younger athletes will bring glory to Sarawak.
She applauds the discipline of the state athletes which for her, are in their best shape mentally, emotionally and physically.
“So far I did not see the athletes having or creating any problems, and I am happy to note that the incentives are given out on par with able-bodied athletes.
Through her involvement in various games and with the incentives she had received, Law eventually bought her own house in Kuala Lumpur, where she currently resides.
The conservative and lively Chinese lady, an activist for the disabled, is currently Paralympic Council of Malaysia vice president. She is also a secretary at Sunway University College, Kuala Lumpur.
“Most of the time, I enjoy doing freelance and volunteering work,” said Law.
Law, who has undergone 60 major and minor operations for complications from her spinal cord injury, maintains a strong desire to continue life as she dreams of living healthily, happily and motivated.
“Thank God, I never failed and until now I am able to be a self-reliant and happy woman.
“Despite all the challenges that life may has put me through, I have never given up hope. I would also like to remind others never to look down on anyone, as God has created men and women equally and always with the determination to help those in need for the betterment of everyone in the future.”