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September 20, 2004

Perfection despite disabilities

From: Straits Times, Singapore - Sep 20, 2004

Muscleman Lee beats the odds even though he is hearing- and speech-impaired

By Alvin Foo

WHEN national bodybuilder Terence Lee flashes his muscular torso on stage, his every movement synchronised with the accompanying pulsating music, spectators can be forgiven for thinking that everything is perfect.

Until you discover later that he is hearing- and speech-impaired.

No mean feat given that in bodybuilding, success is not defined within the traditional sporting criteria of faster, higher, stronger - the Olympic motto.

Instead, it is the rigorous sculpting of the body to achieve perfect proportion and bulk, and Lee has to overcome the disadvantage of not being able to hear instructions during training and competition.

So how does the 36-year-old, who was born deaf, do it?

He scribbled on paper: 'I may not be able to hear properly, but I can feel and count the beat - one, two, three.

'But only some sounds come across clearly. I can't hear people talking, but I can lip read.'

The graphic designer, who started competing in 2002, burst into prominence by winning the national flyweight (60kg) title in July.

He wrote: 'I was amazed I could win the national title despite my disabilities.

'Being a first-timer, I was naturally very nervous. But I had the full support of my mum, friends and colleagues in the hall.'

The 1.65-metre muscleman's next test comes in this week's Asian Championships in Manama, Bahrain, where he will compete in the flyweight division.

In fact, he was so upbeat that he got a $1,000 hearing aid a fortnight ago specially for that.

But mostly, he communicates via hand signs and one of his treasured possessions - his mobile phone. From there, he keeps in touch with his friends and family via SMS.

Although this interview was done face-to-face, some of his replies came via SMS.

One of them was 'please refrain from speaking too much about my family'.

That comes as no surprise as his brother is deaf and his sister is also hearing-impaired.

Said mum Irene, 60, a sales assistant: 'He's a very good son, always concerned about me.

'He has won medals in swimming and bodybuilding.'

Indeed, Lee had won several medals as a disabled swimmer.

And he showed that he is not all brawn by winning several awards in design competitions during his school days.

National coach Calvin Yew was full of praise for his charge.

He said: 'I believe the challenge of overcoming his disabilities has helped cultivate a discipline which is essential for a successful bodybuilder, and this has served him well.'

Added Singapore Bodybuilders' Federation president Paul Chua: 'I singled him out at the national championships in July due to the marked improvement from the time I noticed him in 2002.

'He has nice muscle definition, and should finish in the top-five at this Asian competition.

'Terence belongs to the new generation of bodybuilders who are very knowledgeable. His success story makes him a good role model for all bodybuilders to emulate.'

Lee, a bachelor, spends about three hours a day in the gym and 15 per cent of his wages - about $300 - on food and supplements a month.

For him, the most important thing now is to go as far as possible in bodybuilding, perhaps even winning a world title.

'The rest can come later.'

Copyright @ 2004 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.