She is one of Singapore’s gutsiest, gold-medal-winning sportswomen and the national taekwondo coach.
Wong Liang Ming is also mum to 15-year-old Today columnist Jeremy Lim – and as readers of his columns will know, her fighting spirit has been an inspiration to him. Who better to face off in an interview with her?
Mum, why did you choose taekwondo over other sports?
When I was a little girl, I was a tomboy. I was pretty active, representing my school in athletics, badminton, basketball and brass band.
I loved watching martial arts movies. When someone came to my school to promote taekwondo, I registered immediately as the sport let me live out my dreams of being a “heroine” delivering high-flying kicks.
The sport is a useful tool for the development of discipline, perseverance and mental strength, qualities that will make you resilient in the face of any adversity.
Did you think you would go on to win 4 South-East Asian (SEA) Games gold medals, 3 South-East Asian gold medals, 2 Asian silver medals and 12 more medals in other international championships?
I never thought I would be that successful, although I had an ambition to represent Singapore, just like your granny who was a national basketball player.
I told a Primary 6 classmate about my goal to wear national colours. I wanted to commit myself – I’d be embarrassed if I did not make it, therefore, I had no choice but to train very hard. We met 20 years later at our school reunion. She said: “Congratulations! You really meant what you said.”
Is just “having a goal” enough?
Certainly not! As you have told me many times, dreams are useless if you don’t wake up and do something about it.
I do not know if it is my natural ability. But I know I worked like hell to achieve the physical, mental and technical requirements to excel.
You are aware that I was hospitalised for a dreadful injury (a ruptured lung, sustained in practice) two months before the Asian Taekwondo Championships in 1986. Against doctor’s orders, I went back to training after I was discharged.
I recovered sufficiently to board the plane to Darwin, beat the 1983 world champion from Taiwan in the run-up to the final and clinched second spot after losing to the eventual champion by a split decision.
So, my dear, if you are prepared to work hard and stand up after you fall, you can be the best in your field.
So, taking part in the reality show Fear Factor wouldn’t be a problem for you?
No way! I would puke just seeing that disgusting stuff one has to eat. And if the challenge involves swimming, I will drown after two strokes as you know I can’t swim.
Obviously, courage to fight is not a transferable quality. The late M Oyama, the karate grandmaster who was known for killing a bull with his bare fist, was afraid of cockroaches.
Each of us has our own strengths. The key is to develop your strengths and know your weaknesses so you can achieve your full potential.
You’ll be accompanying the national taekwondo team to the Manila SEA Games next month. Why take up the post of coach after retiring from competing?
After being involved in the sport for more than 25 years, it’s hard to drop it. Also, I do not want my experiences to go to waste; my trainees can benefit from them. And, I want to contribute to the further development of the sport.
I have enjoyed it and gained a lot from it. I believe it is my obligation to give back to the sport. Also, it is a good way for me to do volunteer work.
I’ve always wondered if you have ever considered having another child.
I do not know if you can recall that you rejected the idea of having another child in the family when Dad and I asked you about it! Anyway, we were just pulling your leg.
When we had you, we decided that you deserved all our affection, attention and protection. We also thought that you would be quite a challenge to bring up because of your condition (osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder characterised by bones that break easily.
We received advice from many well-meaning people to have at least another child so that he or she could take care of you when we are no longer around. But it looks like you have to be responsible for your own future – we are confident that you can handle it.
Do you find it tough taking care of me?
It was a challenge in your early years. I was at a loss every time you broke a bone. It pained me greatly to see you go through the ordeal. I had to spend sleepless nights keeping vigil at your bedside to ensure that you did not hurt yourself.
You gave me a lot of anxious moments as you were so fragile. You could break your bones just by sneezing or coughing.
That was not all. You drove me crazy with so many questions – some of which I had problems giving you the answers to.
That meant that I had to spend endless hours searching for the answers to satisfy you. Otherwise, you would persist in asking the same questions!
Now that you are older, it is easier for me. But taking care of you would have been overwhelming without the support of Dad, your grandparents, uncles and aunties, who lightened my burden and allowed me to pursue taekwondo.
Have there been times when you felt like giving up on me?
Giving up is not an option. You are my baby. It is my responsibility to nurture you and help you to be what you want to be and can be.
I am also glad I did not take the easy way out as you have brought laughter to my life. You have also made me proud of your accomplishments. Simply put, you are worth “every cent of my investment” and more.
Did you ever think of how life might be for you if were a normal child?
No. But since you ask, I will give you an answer. I believe that life would not be that enriching as there are many things I would not be able to learn from a normal child.
For example, your positive attitude during your ordeal taught me to look at the sunny side of every rainy day.
And your ability to achieve despite the challenges you face taught me it is not what happens to you that matters, but how you respond to it.
In one sentence, tell me what do you think of me.
You are the spark in my life.
Thanks, Mum. I love you.
(This article was published in TODAY of 31 October 2005)