From cancer to gold

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Part of one man's recipe for beating cancer is breaking records in the swimming pool.

Vo Huynh Anh Khoa's mother Huynh Thi Phat says it feels like just yesterday that her son fell and badly hurt his backbone.

"Soon after, his left leg grew weaker and then it affected his right leg until eventually he could only move on his hands and knees, Phat says.

"He couldn't urinate for several days, and the family got very worried. After a series of tests, doctors said Khoa had spinal cancer.

"After the doctors performed minor surgery, Khoa lay motionless and couldn't move his legs. It was painful but Khoa didn't cry."

He was given acupuncture and physiotherapy treatment for two years and gradually the little HCMC boy with the fighting spirit showed signs of recovery.

When he turned eight, doctors advised his family to take Khoa swimming to build up his legs and it immediately captured his interest - so much so that he became unhappy if he couldn't swim for a day.

"He was very unhappy on days when we were too busy to take him to the swimming-pool," Phat says.

The young man, who will turn 18 today, was born with a tough edge and a competitive streak, and earlier this month Khoa easily won the gold medal in the men's 400m freestyle competition for disabled people at the Quang Tri Swimming Pool.

After the race he said, "I might have become a good footballer... I loved David Beckham and asked my parents if I could go to a special football school when I was five years old. Unfortunately, I was disabled a year later," Khoa said.

Lance Armstrong's example


Born May 21, 1991.

12th grader at HCMC Physical Training and Sports School and will move on to the University of Physical aining and Sports II next year.

Aims to win three individual golds and two team golds at the SEA Paragames 2009 in Laos.

Enjoys watching football, especially English Premier League; and loves KFC.

From the first time he stepped in the pool his swimming improved. Recognizing Khoa's ability, coach Nguyen Dang Vien put him on Tan Binh District's team of disabled swimmers.

Khoa won three individual silver medals in the S9 disability category the first time he participated in the national championships for disabled people in 2003.

"When I came in second in the 50m freestyle, I didn't believe my eyes because I was just a boy of 12 competing against older and bigger people.

"Perhaps, it was a good starting point that encouraged me to try harder and become a good swimmer like I am today."

After that very first silver medal, Khoa then set a series of records, ending up with 30 golds, and countless silvers and bronzes around his house on Le Quang Dinh Street in HCMC's Binh Thanh District.

Among them are valuable gold medals from the Asia-Pacific Youth Paragames in 2003, the 2006 Asian Paragames and the Southeast Asian Paragames 2007.

Khoa was inspired by another sporting cancer sufferer to compete.

"In about 2000, my parents read me a story about the US legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong who overcame testicular cancer and won the 1999 Tour de France.

"Armstrong became my idol and greatly affected my way of living and thinking. I have always thought cancer is not necessarily incurable if we are optimistic and live a good life with regular exercise.

"Since I took up swimming, I have felt healthy and have forgotten about the cancer that might still be in my body."

Parental love really helps

Khoa is very grateful for all of the love and support his parents have given him.

The swimmer, who wants to pass on what was given to him and train other disabled kids to swim, said his parents quit their jobs in the police force to have more time to take care of him when he was diagnosed with the disease.

"My parents have always been beside me. My mother has always been with me at competitions.

"My parents work hard for me. I must try not only to win medals but also stay healthy to prevent the disease from developing again."

Khoa won five gold medals at the May 10-15 national games for disabled people held in the central province of Quang Tri.

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