Petaling jaya: Badminton hero Datuk Lee Chong Wei loves his food. He is, after all, a true-blue Penangite.
A group of lucky Penangites, including this writer, have the privilege of getting together with him for monthly dinners whenever he is in Kuala Lumpur.
Over the meals, the free flow conversations – in northern-style Hokkien – we exchange views on just about everything, especially on health, as most of us are already in our late 50s – with the exception of Chong Wei.
He keeps a very disciplined health regime. He only drinks warm water and will not touch a single drop of carbonated sugar-filled drinks or alcohol.
And he has a rule – dinner has to finish by 10.30pm at the latest because he has to be up by 5am every day for his routine exercises and sessions on court. And he knows that whatever he eats will be “burnt” the next day.
He tells us regularly that he has to change at least 20 jerseys during his training sessions as these would be soaked easily.
The rest of us can only listen in envy as we count the calories.
He was also excited about Lee Chong Wei: Rise of the Legend, sharing with us some of the movie’s behind-the-scenes stories.
The movie is the pinnacle of his career, as he knows that age is catching up with him.
We found a new restaurant, The Regent, in Mont Kiara, recently to meet up. He loves the lobster noodles so much that he goes back to the place twice a week.
That was our last dinner since we heard the bad news – he has early stage nose cancer.
We were shocked because he is a classic health freak. While we struggle with our sugar and cholesterol level, he would lecture us on the importance of exercise and diet.
One of us, whom he holds in high regard, heard it from him in person.
As a friend of ours, we accorded the respect due to him as he began a fight of a different kind.
It was difficult for me, too, as I am a newsman at heart.
As bits of information began to flow out, the sports media fraternity got wind of Chong Wei’s poor health.
Subsequently, the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) had to issue a statement in July that he had “respiratory problem” and asked the public and the media to respect his privacy.
After all, one does not skip training sessions and competitions for no reason. By then, even his opponents had learnt about his health problem and began issuing “get well” messages, which the media picked up.
His arch-rival Lin Dan was one of them, saying that Chong Wei’s priority now was to get better and that he hoped to play against him again.
Surely it wasn’t a simple flu or sinus problem or the other badminton giants would not have sent Chong Wei such wishes.
However, most Malaysians could not read between the lines.
The media was caught between the call to report and to respect the wishes of our badminton hero. For most of us, we chose the latter.
And for me, I look forward to having dinner with the one and only Lee Chong Wei again.
We will stand by him and pray for his best in his fight against cancer.