KUALA LUMPUR: Loh Chee Khoon was born with only his right arm and a stump for a left arm, but until he started primary school, he thought that it was everyone else instead who was different, not him.
His parents and three elder siblings lavished him with so much love that he never realised having only one arm was unusual.
The bubble burst however when he attended school. Wearing a prosthetic arm, Loh was verbally and physically bullied constantly.
“Sometimes, I’d be walking when someone would suddenly pull my hair or my prosthetic arm and lift my arm up. I couldn’t do anything because even though I looked for help, nobody was willing to help me at that time,” Loh, 34, told FMT Lifestyle.
During physical education classes, Loh watched his classmates play sports from under a tree. But, one day, his school organised a compulsory 5km run.
Loh asked his best friend to run with him but halfway through the race he realised he was holding his friend back. So, he told a teacher that he had hurt his ankle and quit the race.
“So, from that experience, I thought sports was definitely something I couldn’t do. I couldn’t even finish a race.”
After Loh started working, food became a source of comfort during stressful periods. His weight ballooned. And soon, his self-confidence was shot because of it.
It was only after a colleague, Michelle Chan, told him about her own fitness activities that Loh felt motivated to join a gym.
Later, upon Chan’s suggestion, he signed up for a 10km run. By then, he had stopped wearing his prosthetic arm, a decision he made when he was about 18 years old after finding it restrictive when using the computer.
“After I signed up, people around me started laughing and saying, ‘Are you sure you can finish the race?’ said Loh, who today works as a UI/UX designer and front-end team leader for a software development company.
Rather than let their taunts deflate him, Loh pushed himself to prove them wrong instead. He did finish the race.
And later, he participated in longer distance races, including a 42km full marathon in 2013 in Gold Coast, Australia – in the dead cold of winter!
Having run his share of marathons, Loh looked for a new challenge and found the answer in obstacle races. The first one he joined was organised by Reebok in 2013.
Loh subsequently went on to conquer Spartan Races, a well-known obstacle race, and even took part in the Spartan World Championship in Lake Tahoe, USA in 2016.
In a Spartan race, participants are awarded a Trifecta medal upon completing three types of race events in one year. In 2018, Loh qualified for five Trifecta medals!
To date, Loh has competed in over 30 Spartan Races in Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines and Singapore.
He has also participated in ultra-marathons – the longest being 100km!
In September, he participated in the REDLINE Fitness Games Kuala Lumpur, a race with 12 fitness workout stations that test a participant’s cardio and endurance, among others.
His most recent feat was the Spartan Race Malaysia 2023 Trifecta Weekend in October.
Differently abled, not disabled
Today, Loh is far from the person who struggled with self-esteem issues due to weight gain. And he no longer watches from the sidelines as others participate in sports.
These days, he exercises at least six times a week for a minimum of two hours. And he’s now eyeing the six World Marathon Majors – the Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City Marathons. In fact, he has signed up for the Tokyo Marathon that will be held next year.
He has also conducted motivational talks so others can be inspired about his journey.
“From my fitness journey, I am aware that ‘disability’ is just a name. I don’t call it a disability, I call it a special condition. People with special conditions actually have talents and potential that they need to discover by themselves.
“I now know that my body can do many things that I used to think I couldn’t do.”