Two months ago Cambodia’s taekwondo pride, Sorn Seavmey, was on a wheelchair after undergoing knee surgery in South Korea. Now she’s fully recovered and tells Eileen McCormick and Say Tola that she still has the same agility, speed and confidence that saw her win a gold medal in the 2014 Asian Games.
Good Times2: How did you feel when you injured your knee?
Seavmey: It was very hard and I was so concerned that I would never get back to the level I was at before. I was also worried my fighting career would be over. The person who gave me hope was a British taekwondo fighter who I used to meet in the tournament circuits. She had great admiration for me and used to call me ‘Cambodia’s taekwondo queen’.
She was also injured in a tournament some time ago, but then she came back after her surgery and won more tournament titles. She spoke to me when I had my injury and gave me the courage to go through the surgery and get back onto the tournament mat after I recovered.
After my surgery I don’t feel I have anything to worry about. I know that I can still fight and prove myself in next year’s Asian Games in Indonesia.
Good Times2: What are the lessons you learned from your injury?
Seavmey: I learned to cope with loneliness when I was undergoing surgery in South Korea and recovering there after the knee operation. The only person who was with me all the time was my coach, Mr. Choi Yong Sok.
I was lonely and worried. My family could not be with me because my elder sister was six months pregnant. Also, my mother is too old and the cold late autumn weather in South Korea would have been too harsh for her to deal with.
Good Times2: Did you get support from the government for your medical expenses in South Korea?
Seavmey: Yes the government fully supported me.
Good Times2: Why did your older brother post on Facebook that you were not being supported?
Seavmey: He was really scared, confused and worried for me. I guess his emotions got the better of him. He did not know what was going on between my coach, manager and the government. My manager felt that my brother was not being patient enough.
Samdech [Prime Minister] Hun Sen paid $10,000 out of his own pocket for my surgery. The Facebook incident, which unfortunately went viral, was all just a misunderstanding as emotions were high at the time.
Good Times2: Why are you so passionate about taekwondo as a sport?
Seavmey: At first I did not think about taekwondo as a career path. I wanted to be a fashion model. I got involved in the sport because of my elder sister and also due to my family’s hardships. My family lost everything in a fire when our Phnom Penh house was burnt to the ground several years ago. My father had already passed away, leaving it up to my mother to find a way to support all of us.
My elder sister was already a taekwondo athlete and she was winning prize money, which helped meet the family’s expenses. Then my brother, too, joined the sport. I started training as a taekwondo athlete at the age of 15 to win tournament prizes in the form of cash to help my family.
Along the way, I fell in love with the sport and soon I was able to build networks and lifelong friends.
Good Times2: Did you ever want to quit?
Seavmey: I wanted to quit after a year because of all my injuries during training. It was so painful but my mom urged me not to give up. When I was overcoming my pain I always thought of other taekwondo athletes. If they could still fight after being injured, why can’t I. My sister was always an inspiration to me, and still is my hero. She would take part in tournaments and fight, even if her bones were broken. My sister was fearless. She was the first in the family to go abroad, and she went to South Korea to train and study the martial art.
Good Times2: How do you feel about becoming a Cambodian icon?
Seavmey: I never expected to reach that level. Everything happened so fast and before I realised what was happening I was getting national attention and the spotlight was on me. I am happy that I can represent my country and be a role model to so many people. I use this as something to push myself for my nation. At this stage, it is not personal or for my family but for the country. Sometimes I lack the confidence when I go on the mat to compete in a tournament. But I know there is always one person waiting to see my achievements, and she is my mom.
Good Times2: Have you thought about a life outside taekwondo?
Seavmey: I am currently working for [Prime Minister Hun Sen’s] bodyguard unit. I have not thought of a life after the sport and I am focused on winning gold again at the next Asian Games. I knew after I won my first Asian Games gold medal that I was never going to stop.