BORN with a rare congenital condition called sacral agenesis, Muhammad Faris Ghazali is certainly a shining example of how one can overcome great odds.

Now, the 17-year-old student is making waves at the Seberang Perai City Council swimming pool where he usually trains under veteran coach Ang Tean Hin.

He came under Ang’s wings at the age of 11 and has recently won four gold and two silver medals at the National Para Swimming Championships.

Although Faris’ impairment is from waist downwards, he moves around confidently on a skateboard.

Chong Eng, the state executive councillor for non-Islamic Religious Affairs and Social Development, dropped by the pool yesterday to have a chat with Faris, Ang and Faris’ mother Khalijah Ismail, a 52-year-old housewife.

Like always, Chong Eng has words of encouragement for him since she has met him several years ago. She also presented Faris a cheque for RM2,000 as an incentive.

“Looking at Faris, everyone can achieve success. The most important thing is that parents must not give up.

“Regardless of whether the child is able-bodied or not, parents must be determined to develop their potential. There are enthusiastic people or clubs that are willing to help them achieve their ambition.

“Faris is role model for us to promote swimming to OKU. Being physically challenged is not the end of the world. They can still perform well,” Chong Eng said.

This resonated with Khalijah, who has sacrificed a lot to bring up her five children together with her husband, Ghazali Saad, a 53-year-old lorry driver. Faris is the youngest of the five children.

“YB Chong Eng told me that she is proud of me that I am not shy to bring out my son.

“I have a message for parents who have OKU children. Don’t be ashamed of your children and please don’t keep them all the time in the house.

“If we parents don’t help them, who is going to inspire them?

“We must be brave to expose them to healthy activities. Bring them to a coach or teacher who can assess their talent and offer advice on the type of activity more suited to the child’s development,” said Khalijah, who fetches her son for daily training.

Looking back, she said she is also grateful to Cikgu Yusfarahana from Sekolah Kebangsaan Bandar Tasek Mutiara in Simpang Ampat who first brought Faris and other children to the MBSP swimming pool. It was there that Ang spotted Faris and approached Yusfarahana to express his interest to coach Faris.

“When Ang told me he wanted to try to coach Faris, I was initially sceptical. He asked for a one-month trial and I asked him whether my son can drown in the pool or not. The teacher later convinced me to let my boy swim because Ang is an experienced coach,” Khalijah recalled.

To her surprise, Faris could swim after only 10 lessons in two weeks.

Even during the lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ang, 63, made sure that all the preparation did not go to waste by conducting online Zoom classes for Faris and his other charges.

“I have been coaching since 1979. All the time, I have only able-bodied students. So, when I saw Faris, I wanted a new challenge by coaching a physically challenged person.

“He used to be a shy and introverted child. But after learning how to swim and getting to know some friends, he is now more cheerful and independent.

“To me, the most challenging part as a coach for an OKU athlete is to deal with their mental aspect.

“You cannot push them too hard in training. Their parents can be very protective and unhappy.

“Faris’ parents are, however, committed and they trust the coach. The coach himself must also be committed. Next, it all boils down to the swimmer.

“For us, the PIBG (Parent Teacher Association) of SK Bandar Tasek Mutiara was very supportive and the teacher also provided moral support by taking leave to join us even when we went for competition in Kuala Lumpur,” Ang said.

Ang has produced several state and national swimmers, most notably former SEA Games champion Christina Loh.

Asked about his plan for Faris, Ang said: “The Asean Para Games will be his target before we think of qualifying for the 2028 Paralympic Games in Los Angeles.”

For now, Faris is enjoying every minute of his time at the pool.  While he is studying at SMK Junjung in Kulim, he is also taking up a reflexology course.

Source: Buletin Mutiara