Yongsan: Overcoming physical disadvantages and standing out
USAG YONGSAN - Excelling at any sport -- especially at the Olympics -- is considered remarkable for any human being. Son, Jeong-yong, a cook at the Main Post Club, U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan, won two bronze medals at the 2017 Samsun Deaflympics, July 18-30, 2017, in Samsun, Turkey. Son is not only deaf, but also mute. Despite such physical disadvantages, Son has spent a lifetime overcoming obstacles and standing out as a symbol of achieving the remarkable -- to some, the impossible.
Son has been a cook at the Main Post Club for 26 years. He started out as a janitor, eventually becoming an assistance cook. He is now one of the main cooks at the Club. He assists with catering orders, including events that take place at the Club. Despite his disability, Son is also responsible for ensuring that all audio/visual equipment work properly. The father of two daughters, Son sat down with The Morning Calm to talk about what has helped him to succeed at the Deaflympics -- and in life.
1. What is it like working at The Main Post Club?
- I use a hearing aid that helps me hear a little. I cannot speak, so sometimes I have problems communicating with other staff. Because I have worked here for so long, I am usually able to work around any problems. No one around me understands sign language, and English is a second language for me. So there are words I cannot understand. I try to compensate using body language, but that always completely successful.
2. Tell us about what motivated you to participate in the Deaflympics.
- This year, I was allowed to take two months of leave for the Olympics. I was proud of myself when my leave was approved, because I believed that was possible only due to my hard-work at the Club. I really appreciate my management, especially Mr. Keith Colbert, for allowing me to enjoy my long leave. Also, I am thankful for other staff who filled in my spot during my absence. I am also grateful for the support of Mr. Thompson and Mr. Dunning, who are members of the bowling league. I will never forget their kindness.
- I signed up for the Olympics mainly because I wanted to show my ability to my family. On top of that, I wanted to challenge myself. I've bowled with my older brother since I was 18. I bowled at the Yongsan Bowling Center to practice. I knew competing would broaden my experience as a bowler.
3. Tell us about the competition.
- I cannot remember exactly how I felt during the event because I was so nervous. I only focused on excelling at the game to earn a gold medal. After the game, my family and parents' face popped into my head. Actually, my family told me later that my father had passed away. They were careful not to say anything to me until the game ended. But I was heartbroken. I was not able to be with my father at the moment of his passing away, and I had to return home earlier than the other players. I felt that I did not complete my duties as a son, and I was sorry to my father.
4. What do you attribute this achievement to?
- I believe it was possible because of my family. Even though I face challenges, when I think about my family, I forget my physical difficulties and only focus on bowling.
5. What advice do you have for others who face physical challenges?
- Most importantly, I really want to express my respect to those who suffered injuries, such as service members who were hurt in combat. I want to encourage those with disabilities to never quit, and to pursue their dreams continuously. I believe the environment for the physically challenged has improved compared to when I first started working. I remember being given the same amount of work as my coworkers, but not being allowed to work as long. I was paid less as a result, but I was expected to work harder because of the shorter work time. It was difficult making a living. Today, I am a part-time employee, and I often am not working 40 hours a week. I have to worry about my daughter's tuition. I imagine if not for my disability, this would not be as big of a problem for me.
6. What is your next goal?
- I want to win gold at the next Olympics.
Yun Su-kyong, administrative support assistant at the Main Post Club, is a colleague of Son and admirer. It is easy to be intimidated by Son, she said, because of his disabilities. Most people have little to no experience working with physically challenged people. She, too, was nervous at first, but I soon realized that he was able to understand instructions and the manager's directions better than anyone else at the Club, without translation. He is a very diligent, highly motivated person, and everyone can learn from him, she said.