“Love” is a simple, yet powerful word which has always inspired, guided, and propelled humankind. For Saisunee “Weaw” Jana, a pro wheelchair fencer who’s been representing Thailand for over 20 years, love was the driving force behind her success.
“It was really hard for me to accept my disability because I wasn’t born with it. But thanks to the love I have for my family, I’ve accomplished so much in my life.”
Love: Chapter 1
No one would have thought that a fit and healthy person like Weaw would come to a pivotal moment in her life when her dream of supporting her family was crushed. Following a road accident that left her paraplegic 30 years ago, she had to spend the following seven years trying to get her life back on track. “I was basically waiting around to die. I was so ridden with guilt because I became such a burden to my family. Everywhere I looked, I saw the struggle faced by the disabled. Everyday routine has become a challenge especially with society’s lack of accessibility. Don’t even get me started on making a living. I simply couldn’t come to terms with my disability and how it affected the family. My parents had to work extra hard, not only to make ends meet, but also to support me and my younger sister. One day, I had a chance to attend a workshop organized by the local disability training center and saw how people who were worse off than I was still managed to take care of themselves and their families. Only then I realized that I wasn’t alone in this. If they could do it, I could do it too. I had to change my mindset if I wanted the best for my family.”
With burning determination, Weaw wanted to prove that she, too, could ‘win.’ This newfound attitude eventually led her to be qualified for the national team. So far in her career, she snatched one gold and one bronze from Athens 2004 Paralympic Games; and two golds and one bronze from IWAS Wheelchair Fencing World Cup in Poland. Her accomplishments, fuelled by the love for her family, have made it possible for everyone to have a better life. Her sister was able to attend a university and finish her bachelor’s degree. Everyone, including Weaw’s own young daughter, is now living together as one big happy family.
Love: Chapter 2
Of course, it wasn’t all roses because our society wasn’t built with people with disabilities in mind. In order to achieve her goal of becoming a successful athlete, she had to relocate to Bangkok and lived by herself for four years. During this period, on top of the already rigorous training schedule for the Athens Paralympics, she was also working two jobs. Life in the city became expensive because she had to rely on taking a taxi to get around and there was no other choice. Sometimes she had to eat free meals at a temple to make sure that she’d have enough money to send back home.
“There were so many obstacles along the way. Funding for athletes with disabilities was non-existent at the time, so I had to shoulder all the expenses myself. Given the circumstances, I could only afford to enter one qualifying event for the Paralympics. It was stressful because it was all or nothing for me. I would get discouraged when the training doesn’t go well as planned. Things got worse during the spread of Covid-19. Everything got postponed, which was very disappointing because I’d been competing and training for four full years in preparation for the Paralympics. Despite it all, I told myself to never give up because all the hard work and sacrifice would have been for nothing.”
Love: Chapter 3
Today, Weaw is the top athlete representing Thailand’s female wheelchair fencing team. She’s currently training for an Asian event in May, in hopes that she would get to compete in the Japan Paralympics. For someone who’s always been determined and competitive, what was it like not being able to compete for one whole year?
She told us that the reason she got into the sport back in 1999 was to improve the livelihood of her family and do all it took to represent the national team and win medals. “My feeling then was pretty much ‘do it or die’ (laughs). Well, it’s still my goal today. I still have to do my best to win Asian events as well as the Paralympics even though I’m faced with strong competitors like Chinese athletes. What’s shifted, though, is that I’ve learned from experience that having high expectations can lead to failure. As long as I stick to my training schedule and give it my all when competing, no matter what the result may be, I’ll accept it and move on.”
Love: Chapter 4
“No matter how much I love the sport, I’d never become a coach!”
Weaw plans to keep competing until the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, which she hopes would be the last competition of her career. She wants to retire at the age of 50 and dedicate the rest of her time to raising her daughter. While she’s adamant about never becoming a coach because she’s already sacrificed more than half of her life competing for the national team, she’s willing to help inspire the next generation of athletes.”
The Summary of Love
“Love and wheelchair fencing are the two things that have helped shape and enrich my life. From having nothing, my family now has a house and a car. We own land and a business. No one in the family has to struggle anymore. Last but not least, the sport made me a lot stronger and healthier than other people my age. I know that I’ll be with the ones I love for a long time.”
Finally, Weaw wants to give a shoutout to people with disabilities out there. “Society today is more accepting of us than before. Cities are more accessible and the law serves us better when it comes to employment, being an athlete or simply living a day-to-day life. The most important thing for us is acceptance. We have to learn to love ourselves and discover our value first, then positive things will follow.”
Weaw’s life journey and achievements truly illustrate the power of love. For anyone who’s struggling in life, we hope that her story will inspire you as much as it inspired us.