From Cambodia to Geelong, with London 2012 in sightLIZ GOOCH
January 5, 2010
The Age Newspaper - Australia - Jan 5 issue
Van Vun trains for the 2012 Paralympics. Leigh Henningham Picture Editor The Age 03 9601 2682 www.theage.com.au/photography 2 More pics of Van Vun, Liz van vun batch 4. cheers Rahman 2Mobile +60 16 2462 977 email@example.com SPECIAL
FOR much of his young life, Van Vun's view of the world has been obscured by people's kneecaps.
A bout of polio when he was 18 months old left him unable to use his legs, so he relied on his arms to heave himself across the fields where his parents grew rice and vegetables near the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh.
Now 23, Van Vun's carved biceps are propelling him far beyond his family's fields, and he has a clear vision of the future that awaits him.
Ranked No. 1 in Cambodia across all distances in wheelchair racing and with his sights set on the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Van Vun will arrive in Geelong on Friday for an eight-day training camp organised by Parallel Sports, a volunteer group affiliated with Athletics Victoria.
Van Vun , who is making his first trip overseas, will return home with a new wheelchair donated by Parallel Sports.
''I hope I can learn a lot in Australia and show that Cambodian athletes can compete with international athletes with pride,'' he said.
Van Vun, who only began attending school when he got his first wheelchair at the age of 15, is an example of how sport is helping change lives in a country that has one of the world's highest concentrations of disabled people.
In 2006, when he was studying electrical repairs at a rehabilitation centre in Phnom Penh, Van Vun heard about the wheelchair racing program organised by the Cambodian National Volleyball League (Disabled) and signed up immediately.
Before he started competing, Van Vun said, no one wanted to talk to him. ''People looked down on me,'' he said.
Now a national hero, police stop traffic for him when he is training on the streets of Phnom Penh. He says he feels as though people treat him like a ''normal person''.
Chris Minko, an Australian from Myrtleford, is secretary-general of the Cambodian National Volleyball League (Disabled), and was recently honoured for his services to Cambodians with disabilities with an award from the country's Prime Minister, Hun Sen.
He said Van Vun was an example of how sport could help Cambodia's most marginalised citizens regain their self-esteem and physical wellbeing to become active members of the community.
Kaye Colman, vice-president of Parallel Sports, said Van Vun would train alongside some of Victoria's best wheelchair athletes and several Japanese athletes at the camp, taking part in three training sessions a day - on the track, in the gym and the pool.
She said the group decided to give Van Vun a new wheelchair to help him in his bid to qualify for the London Paralympics.