Weightlifting, women and wheelchair users are not often things that go together.
Not so for Mee Vithaya, whose love of her sport and her resolve to follow her passion has led her to combining this unique set of attributes. Mee’s world is one in which she is pushing many boundaries.
When in Laos, I spent time with Mee Vithaya both on and off a basketball court and her fun but gentle demeanour belies her fierceness and determination. Learn about how her joy at participating in sports, including one which challenges stereotypes, is equaled only by her desire to get a job and make changes for the benefit of others.
Find out more about how I was inspired to share this series of Laotian women’s stories with you here
Tell us about yourself
I’m Latsami Vithaya (Mee). My hometown is Xayabouly province (in the northern part of Laos). I am probably 30 years old. I was told the birthdate registered in my family book is not the actual birthdate so I have no idea how old I really am!
What has been your journey of disability?
I was 6 at the time. After rocking my little sister to sleep, I went to bed and fell as asleep. But when I woke up, I could not stand up and I had high fever. I was brought to hospital, I got treatment and some injections. I was told I have polio and wouldn’t be able to walk.
Are there things about you that people misunderstand because of your disability?
People expect less from me. As I was shy and did not want to hang out with others because I could not move as quickly as they do so people often thought I could not do tough stuff.
Who inspires you? Where do you get inspiration from?
My family, my sport coach, my friends. My family is someone who is always there for me. My friends are those I share my worries and joy. My coach trains me, pushes me forward, advise me how to master sport skills.
I realise that in the end it’s me myself and I is all I’ve got, I must take action otherwise all the things I’ve been told or learnt would not mean a thing.
Which three words would you use to describe yourself?
Impatient, Singled-minded, strong (I want to be).
What’s one thing that someone has taught you that completely changed your life?
I learn from my bosses and supervisors. After coming to work at a Disabled Women’s Development center in the capital Vientiane, my boss there often gave me advice and encouragement. I remembered that she told me to always do my job to my best ability, doing good work would pay off one day, as there would always be someone watching and evaluating us. I also learn a lot from my friends and people in my communities.
Socializing with friends, getting to see a bigger world has broadened my horizons and shaped the way I think, speak and behave. It happened naturally and I didn’t even notice until I went back to my old hometown. My family was surprised at the way I speak and behave (they say its more politely, maturely)
Who or what has been the most significant influences on who you are today?
Situations around me or when I see other people with disabilities. When I see people with disabilities who are even struggling more than I do and I realize how naïve I am to think pitifully about myself, or to worry too much about how little I can do. I see people struggling and I wonder to myself I am lucky to be alive and have all that I have, I also must try harder too.
What’s one thing about you that surprises people?
My ability to do sport! My sibling, even my mom, could not believe me when I said I played powerlifting and I could lift more than my body’s weight. They jokingly said I can’t even carry a sticky rice basket so how would I lift such heavy thing!! I also like playing wheelchair basketball very much. My mom says the sport looks too dangerous and scary, but I like it dearly.
9. For what are you most grateful today?
Having a job and be able to make a living on my own.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
I would advise myself not to be too naughty, not to rely on parents too much and use money thoughtlessly, and not to feel too hopeless about what I can do because there is still so much more I can do.
11. Do you have one crazy funny story you can share?
I was not a very obedient kid back then. I had to crawl to go to school so I often arrived late at the school. It got even worst in the afternoon in the summer (to go from home to school after lunch at home) so I often skipped afternoon classes and went to play in nature, like swimming in the pond. I thought my mother didn’t know but my teacher came to my home and reported that to my mom. So that was quite a legacy I made during my childhood.
Is there something that you would like people to know about you or about people with disability that they might not know?
I want to have a stable job. I want to tell people with disability that I was in many difficult situations too. My legs are weak like this but I can still do many things. We cannot rely on our parents forever, they too, are getting old every day. So we must keep trying, be kind and support each other when in need. Little by little things will get better.