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While it takes courage to overcome life challenges it takes more than that to emerge victorious after a mishap that rendered an otherwise strong man to a helpless physical wreck. That was what 63 year-old pensioner Junaidi Pauzan found out when he met with an accident that robbed him of his right leg.

Junaidi, who lives in the serene seaside village of Santubong, was sending his daughter on a motorbike to school on one beautiful morning in 2001, when he met with his accident.

For someone who had led an active lifestyle and enjoyed the great outdoors, the reality of losing a limb was hard to swallow. Junaidi was a boatman attached to the Sarawak Forestry Department.

During months of convalescing at home, the stark reality of his situation sunk in. That was the beginning of his mental destruction.

Victory Junaidi after the gruelling swim across the South China Sea from Satang Island to Damai Beach.

“I was alright after the accident even though I knew I lost a limb,’ admitted Junaidi. His mental state was calm and composed but when he returned home it was a battleground.

For Junaidi, who was once a full-bodied male, to learn to walk with crutches was very humbling. He was reduced to being a baby again. It was embarrassing and depressing for the sole provider, the father of the house. He was rendered helpless in the vicinity of his own home. Junaidi is a grandfather of four and a father of five children. It was so bad that he admitted that he wallowed in self-pity and after a while, frustration, anger and depression set in. Junaidi spiralled downwards rapidly.

What saved the boatman was his sense of commitment to humanity. Junaidi was a blood donor. He would donate the life saving liquid twice every year. So when he approached the hospital in his bid to donate blood, he was told he could not due to low blood count. His inactivity and his mental state, which was at an all time low, made him very unfit, so much so that his immune system was low. Junaidi needed no medical specialist to tell him. He knew it himself.

That bucked him up. He took up swimming lessons provided for those with disabilities at the MBKS swimming pool. “I could swim but in kampong style,” he recalled with a grin. But when he requested to be trained as an athlete, the coach was hesitant; he thought it was too soon. But the boatman refused to be daunted.

He practiced every day and within a month, he showed so much progress that the coach enlisted him as one of the para-Olympic swimmers. He clinched a gold and two silver medals at the 2006 National Paralympic Sports meet.

WILL POWER: Junaidi in his custom made tricycle participated in the recent Free Car Day this year.

Junaidi went a bit further. Putting his training in the pool to test, the boatman swam from Kampong Pasir to his village in 2006. And in 2009, he won instant fame when he made a grueling six-hour swim across the South China Sea from Satang Island to Damai Beach. The length of the swim is 15 miles. Refusing to rest on his laurels, the boatman swam to action again when he completed a swim from the Satang Island to his village the following year. “I put my heart and soul in whatever I do and let nothing hinder me even though now I am handicapped myself,” said Junaidi.

His watery achievements boosted his confidence and morale. Junaidi was on a roll. He was looking for another jaw dropping feat. Adding mountain hiking to his bucket list, he scaled Mount Santubong within seven hours in 2011. Mt Santubong is not known to be hiker friendly, in fact it has garnered the name of ‘one of the hardest mountains to climb’ in the state.

As if that is not enough, the one-legged boatman proved his athletic prowess when he cycled on a custom made tricycle. He rode alongside the other able-bodied cyclists as they took to the road during the 1st Car Free Day in the city in February this year.

Currently he is planning for a solo ride from Kota Kinabalu to Kuching. Junaidi will ride for charity.

Driving a car and steering a boat are not feats to overcome according to him. “We don’t need legs to drive or steer,” he laughed. He added technology has made life easy as he referred to the automatic car.

Since retiring from civil service, Junaidi has been hired as a part time boatman, bringing divers to the diving areas for training.

He explained his reasons for indulging in activities or hobbies that challenge his physical disability. “I refuse to see my disability as a hindrance to what I want to do. I do not want it to dictate my life.”

             Training for bigger challenges: Swimming from the Satang Island to Santubong. 

Nonetheless he admitted it was not easy initially. There were many times that he wanted to give up, giving the excuse that he is disabled but he held the oppressive thoughts captive. He refused to give way to them.

“I was once deep in the abyss and I did not like it one bit,” said Junaidi, “And I vowed to myself I will never return to it ever again.” He said it is easier to endure physical hardship than mental anguish.

That is sufficient to validate his ongoing fixation of pushing himself far into the beyond. A former helpless one-legged boatman has emerged as a champion - a victor over all adversaries.

                                               Climbing Mt. Santubong: A hike of 7 hours

Doreena Naig is a veteran writer who has more than a decade of experience in print media. During her tenure as a writer she has won numerous awards. Now semi retired, Doreena continues her passion as a free lance writer.

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