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“When God closes a door for you, He opens a window as long as you don’t give up.”
This was the phrase that came to mind when interviewing CK Loh, which perfectly encapsulates the attitude this multisport athlete who was born with only one hand had.
34-year-old CK Loh hails from Ipoh, Perak, and currently works at a company in Kuala Lumpur as a UI/UX designer and front-end software development team lead.
In addition to designing software, he also has to ensure that the products developed by programmers align perfectly with the designs.
Born physically challenged
Unlike most babies who have all their body parts intact upon birth, CK Loh was born prematurely with only one hand. As such, the doctors fitted his arm with a cup-shaped prosthetic in preparation for a prosthetic limb much later.
My early years can be described as a fragile kitten under a warming lamp, where my parents constantly feared for my life. However, I proved to be a fighter and defied all odds.
“Growing up, my family was understandably protective of me, often shielding me from life’s harsh realities. This in turn caused me not to be able to learn basic living skills like tying shoelaces,” he said.
He wore a prosthetic limb, and for the longest time, he believed he was just like everyone else.
In fact, I thought those without prosthetic limbs were the odd ones,” he confessed.
Facing the weight of prejudice
It wasn’t until primary school that CK Loh finally realised he was different and soon fell victim to constant taunts, bullying, and unkind nicknames from classmates.
Simple tasks like drawing a straight line became a challenge, and his mother’s attempt to create a special tool for him only led to more ridicule.
As for physical education classes, all CK Loh could do was sit underneath a tree and watch while his peers played sports.
The only time I could exercise was when I took off my prosthetic limb at home and played badminton with my family. It was a rare moment of freedom and physical exercise.“
The lack of physical activity, combined with the emotional stress, led to CK Loh gaining weight, further affecting his self-esteem.
Every stare, every whisper, was a challenge thrown at me,” he recalled.
Choosing his own path
After completing his SPM, CK Loh grappled over which career path he should pursue as his initial aspirations to become a teacher or doctor were hindered by his physical condition.
However, CK Loh had a passion for computers and a chance encounter with his sister’s friend, who was a design graduate, steered him towards that path.
“While my parents hoped that I would pursue a conventional career, they allowed me to explore my interests.
Many people actually find it surprising that I can type pretty fast on keyboards and am very much into flash animation.“
CK Loh eventually chose a multimedia designing course at MMU in Cyberjaya despite needing to learn how to draw well and having to stay so far from his hometown in Ipoh.
Although CK Loh’s mother expressed concern for his ability to cope with his new life in KL, her fears were put to rest by his determination to overcome challenges, where he told her he would find a way to do so.
‘Why not just be myself?’
University life was both an eye-opening and challenging experience for CK Loh. Using a computer was particularly cumbersome for him, especially when the task required both hands.
Assignments that demanded dual-hand input had to be completed in the solitude of his dorm room, tucked away from the prying eyes of classmates.
CK Loh’s prosthetic limb, while helpful, was rigid and often attracted unwanted attention. Therefore, after struggling for a few days he decided to take it off.
I realized that hiding wasn’t living, and no matter whether I wore my prosthetic limb with long sleeves or not, people wouldn’t stop staring at me. In that case, why not I just be myself?” he recounted.
His decision to attend class without his prosthetic limb was more than a personal choice; it was also a declaration of self-acceptance which set him on a path of self-discovery and unyielding determination.
CK Loh also vividly remembered the time when a strict lecturer uttered harsh words to him that not only made him contemplate dropping out but also questioned the value of his life.
While his intention was to prepare students for future critiques, for me, it was a brutal reminder of my differences. I nearly committed suicide because of that.”
Despite the emotional turmoil and the constant feeling of being scrutinized, CK Loh persevered and managed to graduate with the rest from university.
Becoming Marathon Man
Thanks to his motivation and desire to regain his health and confidence, CK Loh was introduced to running not long after he started working full-time.
Inspired by a colleague Michelle, he began his fitness journey with simple workouts, which soon led to marathons.
I was envious of her happy and interesting life during the weekends while I was always sleeping and being lazy at home.”
His first marathon in 2012, the NIKE Run, was a testament to his newfound passion. CK Loh confessed that he felt tired and wanted to give up, but upon reaching the finishing line and receiving a medal and T-shirt, it gave him a sense of achievement.
For once, I felt there was something I could accomplish just like everyone else. I truly experienced a sense of equality in marathons”
Over time, he participated in various marathons, including the prestigious Gold Coast marathon in Australia with Fitness First’s sponsorship after winning their story writing competition with the theme “My Fitness Story”.
That was also the race he realised the importance of having someone to support and wait for him at the finish line.
I persevered despite the cold weather and exhaustion because I knew my father was waiting for me to return.”
He also noted that a jovial friend from China whom he met at the marathon was happily taking pictures and enjoying the race, adding that it was another reason he managed to push through.
‘What more can I achieve?’
For CK Loh, every race isn’t just about the finish line but about challenging his own limits.
Every challenge is an opportunity to discover what I’m truly capable of, so I always ask myself: ‘What more can I achieve?’”
From marathons to obstacle races and even ultra-marathons covering 100km, CK Loh’s grit and determination have since gained him many sponsors from big brands like Reebok, Fitness First, Suunto and Spartan Race.
Aside from getting sponsorships from renowned brands, CK Loh also had the opportunity to travel the world while taking part in marathons, where he once ran in the snow during a marathon in the US.
However, CK Loh had to bring his marathons to a halt in 2019 due to exhaustion and the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
During the pandemic, everything was brought to a stop and it led to me gaining weight and losing my confidence.
“It wasn’t until when the MCO was lifted that I gradually began exercising again and am making good progress,” he said.
For CK Loh, the horizon is filled with dreams yet to be achieved. “Every dawn is an opportunity,” he says, “And I look forward to some of the world’s biggest marathons like the Tokyo marathon next year and CrossFit challenges.
His aspiration is not just to win races but to inspire others and show that every challenge is an opportunity in disguise.
Even if you’re different or have imperfections, there’s always a silver lining. Never give up, especially during moments of doubt.”