Para-Athlete Pich Yaray Finds Hope in Swimming

Pich Yaray gave up hopes of a bachelor’s degree in marketing due to tetra-amelia syndrome but found hope in swimming and now aims for victory in the 12th Para Games. Photo: Teng Yalirozy

PHNOM PENH – Pich Yaray gave up hopes of a bachelor’s degree in marketing due to tetra-amelia syndrome but found hope in swimming and now aims for victory in the 12th Para Games.

Born in 1988, Yaray did not go to school until he was 15 when he got a chance in 2003 to learn at Lavalla Primary School of the NGO Marist Solidarity Cambodia.

The school was founded in 1998 to serve children and young people with physical limitations.

“I met one uncle near my house who asked me whether or not I wanted to go to school,” he said.

“I replied that I really wanted to learn because I did not know what I could do with the disability. There was a Lavalla project in which disabled children who could hold a pen to write could join.

“I, fortunately, could hold a pen, so I was given a chance to join the project.”

Initially, his mother, who passed away in 2006, refused to him go to school as she believed that disabled children could not be given such an opportunity.

The school convinced her that her son could do and be anything he wanted with the power of education. His father had passed away eight years before his mother.

After passing the grade six national exam in 2009, Yaray, who was born in Kandal’s Takhmao city, enrolled in Hun Sen Takhmao High School, and was taught alongside non-disabled people. 

Asked if he faced challenges going to school with non-disabled people, Yaray said he mainly struggled with financial resources and transport.

“I did not feel like they showed discrimination against me because I was only focusing on my education,” said Yaray. “But my main barrier was that I could not afford to join extra classes.”

He considered himself lucky that he had friends who were willing to share with him the notes from the extra classes as most of them had learned about his struggle and wanted to help him.

After graduating high school in 2015, he pursued a marketing major at university but dropped out in the third year due to financial restrictions.

In 2018, he was recruited to be a part of the Lavalla project, in which his main duty is taking care of children with disability. He also teaches them occasionally.

Sport gives him hope

In 2008, he took part in a seminar on media and radio broadcasts in search of passion and a future career. However, he met someone who advised him to try swimming as a career.

He gave it a try and met a coach at the Olympic Stadium, who tested his swimming ability and saw the potential. Yaray started learning the techniques and training frequently. Occupied with education, his training duration started getting shorter.

“At first, I got nausea and a headache in the water,” he said. “But over time, swimming became enjoyable and improved my health.”

Yaray trained in South Korea for 12 months and took part in a competition in Malaysia and Singapore but lost.

However, he considers swimming as a benefit to his health and a chance for networking. Over more than ten years, he said he has befriended many paralympic athletes and has been given a sense that he is not alone.

Yaray said he will bring out his best in the hope of winning in the 12th Para Games as he has been training every day.​ But, the chance is uncertain as he said he has the rare disability type which is rarely seen in the para-swimmers.

“People said I could not do anything besides staying at home. I want to show that I am capable of doing what normal people can,” he said.

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