In tandem from the first meeting

In tandem from the first meeting

First impressions usually fade from memory but in the case of tandem para-cyclist Steve Tee and his pilot Ang Kee Meng, their first meeting remains a memorable and humorous one.

“Can I feel your legs?” was one of the initial questions Tee, who is visually impaired, posed to a surprised Ang in May 2017.

Recounting that encounter, Tee, 39, chuckles and told The Straits Times: “My former coach (Christian Stauffer) told me not to worry because Kee Meng is a big and strong guy with big legs so he will take care of me.

“When we met, I was curious so I asked if I could touch his leg. I think he was a bit shocked. When I felt his leg, I was also a bit shocked, so we were both shocked in different ways. After that and after riding with him, I felt like I could trust him and we can race together. He’s like a mentor to me and he has lots of experience in cycling. He will share tips on how to improve my weaknesses.”

In tandem para-cycling, a visually-impaired athlete, called the stoker, is paired with a sighted counterpart, or the pilot.

Ang, 34, is a former national track cyclist. He said: “When I first met Steve, he was very quiet and shy. Subsequently, I tried to break the ice and he started telling me his stories. He’s like a funny older brotherso it’s quite fun to go out and ride with him.”

A friendship and successful partnership has since blossomed – they claimed a bronze in the 24.6km individual time trial at the 2017 Asean Para Games in Kuala Lumpur and last year finished third in the 4,000m individual pursuit (B) at the 9th Para Asian Track Championships in South Korea – with the pair set to represent Singapore at next year’s Tokyo Paralympics.

They will be announced today as the first local athlete ambassadors for tyre maker Bridgestone, which has donated more than $160,000 towards their equipment, training and competition costs.

Paul Choo, Bridgestone Asia Pacific’s vice-president of human resources and corporate social responsibility, said: “Their unwavering commitment and positive attitude are an inspiration to us all as we navigate these difficult times. We are very proud to be part of their remarkable journey.”

Other national para-athletes previously supported by corporate partners include para-swimmers Yip Pin Xiu (Citi Singapore) and Toh Wei Soong (BP Singapore and Toyota Motor Asia Pacific) as well as para-archer Nur Syahidah Alim (BP Singapore). BP had also supported three-gold Paralympic champion Yip and Paralympic bronze medallist Theresa Goh for the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

In June, Tee left his job as a supervisor at a call centre to train full-time. He trains 18 to 23 hours a week, while Ang trains more than 25 hours. They usually go for two or three training camps overseas a year for one to two months each time and are planning one in Perth next year.

In 2004, Tee was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa which his doctors said would lead to total or near-total blindness. When he first heard the news, he was devastated and shocked as he could no longer participate in his favourite sports like football and cycling.

“I went into a state of isolation for about three weeks,” he recounted.

The turning point came when one day, he was awakened by the sound of thunder and realised that he was very hungry as he had not eaten the whole day.

As there was no one and no food at home, Tee grabbed an umbrella and bought himself a packet of chicken rice from a stall that was a 10-minute walk from his home. “I realised if you’re hungry, you will find a way to protect yourself from the storm and get food,” he said. “Likewise, if you’re hungry, you can overcome any kind of adversity or challenges you face in life.”

By end-2008, he graduated with a double major degree in computer security and networking and eight months later, landed his first job in a call centre.

In 2015, he captained Singapore’s five-a-side visually impaired football team at the Asean Para Games on home soil, before switching to tandem cycling in 2017.

At the Paralympics next year, Tee and Ang hope to improve their personal best of 4min 47.414sec in the 4,000m event set last January.

Ang added: “Hopefully, we’ll be able to inspire other younger people with disabilities and get them out to the light.

“It’s about telling people that if Steve can do it, I’m pretty sure anyone who has a will can do it as well.”