Home > Lifestyle > People
Friday August 16, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Monday August 19, 2013 MYT 11:17:52 AM
by ian yee
Melvin Tong lost his right leg to cancer when he was 17, but that didn't stop him from building his own supercar business with his twin brother, Kelvin. - LOW LAY PHON/The Star
A young amputee hopes to inspire change for others like himself in the country.
MELVIN Tong is not the biggest fan of motivational speaker Nick Vujicic. There. We said it.
Tong, who lost his right leg to cancer when he was 17 but recovered to build a successful supercar dealership business, is brutally honest about how he feels about the “man with no limbs” – which just makes it all the more curious why he has pledged to raise RM100,000 to help StART Society and R.AGE bring him to Malaysia.
“I think what he does is great. He’s a great public speaker, and he inspires a lot of people,” said Tong. But of course, there’s a “but”.
“But I don’t know why people are making such a big fuss about bringing him here, when there are people with disabilities in Malaysia like myself who are also living life to the fullest. Why not listen to our stories?”
It’s an awkward thing for Tong to explain. On one hand, he feels a little annoyed by the hoopla surrounding Vujicic; but at the same time, there’s a grudging respect for the man he hopes to emulate someday.
In a way, Tong’s issue is not truly with Vujicic, but with the mentality of Malaysians towards the disabled.
“I always think that we are not handicapped by our disabilities – we are handicapped by society,” he said. “After my surgery (to amputate his entire right leg up to the pelvis), I had relatives visiting me saying ‘don’t worry, I have a desk job for you once you recover’. I didn’t know whether to feel angry or touched!”
That was just one of many incidents that made Tong determined to challenge his limits, and to inspire others like himself to believe they can still live an awesome life.
In April 2010, he became the first amputee to climb Mount Kinabalu, raising RM150,000 for charity in the process.
“It was anger that initially motivated me to climb Mount Kinabalu,” he admitted. “My girlfriend and her friends from university were talking about doing the climb, so I just said ‘I’d like to try that too’.
“But they were all so worried, and in the end they went without me – even my girlfriend. That’s when I made it my mission to do the climb myself.”
When he was first diagnosed with fibrosarcoma (a type of malignant tumour) in his leg that would require an amputation, he and his siblings set out to complete a “bucket list”. It was mostly the simple things he was worried he wouldn’t be able to do after the surgery, like driving a manual car, go-karting, and even playing badminton.
But after the surgery, he became more determined than ever to keep challenging himself. There was even a failed attempt to try sky-diving, something which still irks him.
“I already signed all the indemnity forms and flew to Australia, but when I got there, the pilot insisted I wasn’t allowed to do the dive. And it was a tandem dive!” he said.
And then there are the little things – getting stares from people at the pool during his first swim post-operation, being denied entry to all the rides during a recent trip to a water theme park, or even being turned away from an OKU parking spot because he was driving one of his supercars.
“That’s the problem! They assume I can’t be an OKU because I’m driving a supercar. By why can’t an OKU be successful? Why can’t we drive nice cars?” he said.
Incidentally, Tong founded his supercar business with his twin brother Kelvin, starting with a single imported Mercedes Benz E-Class. Though they made a loss on that first car, they managed to make some money on their next two investments – a Honda City and Honda Prelude. The rest, as they say, is history. Now the brothers import Ferraris, Bentleys and other luxury vehicles, and have a showroom in Plaza Damas 3 in Sri Hartamas, KL.
Now Tong has set himself a new challenge – to become a motivational speaker just like Vujicic, so he can inspire Malaysians with his story.
“(Vujicic) is my benchmark. I want to challenge myself to be better than him,” he said. “But I do hope I get to know him personally when he comes to Malaysia, so I can see for myself what he’s all about.”
Tags / Keywords:
Youth, Melvin Tong, Nick Vujicic, Disability, R.AGE
Copyright © 1995-2013 Star Publications (M) Bhd (Co No 10894-D)