An amazing Thai woman & her Olympic dream
Updated: Jan 30
Today we are at Thailand's Lampang cancer treatment hospital, a four hour drive from our farmstead in the district of Kamphaeng Pet.
Hyperthyroidism i131 Treatment
Lampang hospital specializes in many forms of cancer treatments. This includes i131, or iodine 131, which is a common & effective treatment for suffers from hyperthyroidism.
At the time of writing this article, my good wife Toon is currently undergoing i131 treatment.
Toon has just taken her first radioactive iodine capsule that will immediately begin to attack her overactive thyroid gland.
During these first four hours, Toon has to remain in isolation while the treatment gets to work. After this, a second capsule is then taken, and the doctors will then assess her condition to determine if she's strong enough to leave. If she's not deemed well enough, a night in hospital beckons.
While sitting in the waiting room on tenterhooks, it gives me time to myself and time to reflect. To reflect on what a fantastic person my wife is and how lucky I am to be sharing my life with her.
Suffering with Hyperthyroidism
For those of you who are married or live with a partner who suffers from thyroid problems, you will know all too well that the emotional road can be a long and bumpy journey. Volatile mood swings can be frequent and surface with little to no warning.
Suffers often say that it feels like there's another person in their head, bursting to get out and kick off at someone or something.
Unfortunately, these thyroid issues claim its fair share of marriages and relationships. The strain proves to be too much to cope with for many couples, and they end up parting ways.
The thyroid sufferer often feels guilt for their uncontrollable mood swings, and partners often feel like they're an emotional punch bag that can't take any more hits.
For me, I've always tried hard to keep reinforcing to myself 'it's that bloody thyroid, it's not Toon.'
Now don't get me wrong here, Toon is volatile by nature, it's part and parcel of her DNA. What she lacks in size, she makes up in, let's just say 'a colorful character!'
As you read on, I will try my best to shed some light onto the reasons why she is such a wonderful firecracker and why she excels battling against problems in her life.
To do this, we need to rewind the clock, way back, right back to when Toon was still a wee nipper at school.
An amazing Thai woman
Run Wandee, run!
As a student, teachers called Toon by her real name, Wandee. Toon was her shortened sarcastic nickname derived from Kartoon. It was given to her by her late father (because she didn't smile much as a baby.)
One hot afternoon Toon's teacher had arranged all the students in a line at one end of the sports field and instructed them to sit down on the grass.
'When you hear the whistle, you all have to run to the other end of the field,' ordered the teacher.
As usual, Toon wasn't listening and sat crossed legged chatting with her best friend.
'Wandee! Did you hear me? Do you understand?' Shouted the teacher.
'Yes sir' was Toon's reply while still sitting legs crossed and chatting away to her friend.
Everyone else was coiled like a spring waiting to leg it.
The whistle blew, and they were off. Unsurprisingly, Toon and her friend looked up and had been left for dead.
'Run Wandee, get up, and run!' Was the scream from her irate teacher.
Surprised and confused, Toon lept up and took off after the other students in the distance.
She began to pass stragglers and chased the leading pack for all her worth until the end of the field.
'Wandee, come here now!' Toon expected a roasting from her teacher.
'Tonight, tell your parents you'll be late home every night until next Wednesday,' she was instructed.
Toon was worried and asked her teacher why.
'You came first. You're racing against another school next week, you need to practice,' was the reply.
Like many other young Thai daughters at school, Toon had many chores to complete at home after her school day had finished. If they weren't done before the family returned from working on the farm, there was always a price that had to be paid.
Thankfully though, a student chosen to represent their school is considered a great honor in Thailand. Unfortunately, with this honor came the burden to deliver.
Toon trained hard that week.
Toon's first student race meet
Race day soon arrived, and Toon was called forward for the first race, which was the 50m dash.
The smallest of all the entrants, Toon lined up against the students from the other school. She was in bare feet, the only student not wearing running shoes or trainers.
Upon being told to 'get ready and set,' everyone crouched on all fours waiting for the whistle. Everyone apart from Toon that is, she hadn't been told or shown how to do that type of start.
The whistle blew, and Toon's sluggish upright starting position meant she was the last to get going. Not wanting to let her teacher, or her school down, she gritted her teeth and went for it.
Toon sliced through the field and came in first.
At the finish line, Toon's teacher jogged over 'Wandee you were first, get some rest, I've entered you into the 100m.'
Toon didn't even know what a 100m looked like, never mind ever ran that far.
After a short break, the entrants were again called to the line. Toon still adopting an upright starting position as the whistle blew.
Two races, two wins, and with only 5 baht in her pocket for food and drink for the whole day (no one had informed her that the food and refreshments were free for a student participating.)
This was the end of Toon's first race meet. The first of what was soon to become many.
Her teacher saw much potential in Toon's young talent, and a much-needed pair of trainers made their way into her kit bag.
Toon began working on her terrible starting position (up until then, her acceleration, or drive phase, was her race weak point.)
50m & 100m Sprint Distances
School races regularly came and went, the story was the same. Toon was entered into every 50m and 100m (the two distances for her school year.) All the results were identical, first every single time.
Toon was soon elevated to represent the oldest year at her school. She was now to race against girls two years older than herself.
With her new trainers and much-improved start, no one could beat her. She ended that school year undefeated for her age group, and for the two years above.
Such was her teacher's belief now that he entered Toon into race meets against older students attending schools of neighboring districts in Thailand.
Expectations were now rising as the school's trophy cabinet was gradually filling up.
Incredibly, one by one, every single district was beaten, and Toon still remained undefeated.
It was time for a sit-down chat with her teacher.
A chance to qualify for the student Olympics
'Wandee, I've entered your name to race against all of the other districts in Thailand,' was the teacher's news.
'You will be against the best students in all of Thailand. You're representing your school, it's a great honor Wandee.'
'Yes sir,' was Toon's anticipated response, but expressed her concern about spending time away from her family, not being able to do her chores at home, and cost implications.
Her teacher's next statement changed everything.
'If you win Wandee, you will be going to the student Olympics. You will be representing your country and school in front of the world.'
Toon trained hard, harder than ever before.
Her big chance soon came around as race day approached.
Thailand's fastest students from all of Thailand's districts converged for the student Olympics qualifying. At this time, Toon was still two years younger than the vast majority of the other students participating.
The qualification took the form of several rounds, leading to a straight shoot out in a final race.
100m, 200m & 400m Sprint Distances
Toon now had to contend with a change in race distances.
She was to run 100m, and now, 200m, and 400m for the first time in her life.
In the initial rounds, a first or second placed finished resulted in an automatic pass to the next round. A limited number of third place finishes also went through as fastest losers.
Toon's teacher reiterated to her, not to finish third, or she could be going home early.
Qualifying Rounds 1 & 2 (100m)
The first round began, and Toon lined up.
BANG went the starter's pistol, and Toon froze. She'd never heard a gun go off before, only a starter's whistle.
Toon's old slow start had returned to haunt her. It meant she had to rely on her flat speed and battle all the way to the line.
First, by a whisker, and advice from her teacher to calm down about the start gun.
Time for round two and Toon nailed the start . . . First at a breeze.
Semi-final Qualifying (200m)
Into the semifinal race and hopes were being to grow.
Toon was never in a rush and preferred to line up last at the start. A common phycological sprinter's trick regularly still seen today.
However, this time it backfired, and Toon now found herself sandwiched in a center lane by two much taller girls.
Most sprinters prefer a middle lane, feeling it helps to drive them on being in the center of the action. The downside to this is if the runners either side of you decide to hug the lines of your lane.
BANG from the gun then bangs from the left, followed by a hit from the right. These bangs were coming from the girls' arms and elbows. They had encroached into Toon's lane on both sides.
It was obviously pre-planned, and Toon was blocked off, struggling to get through the melee of limbs in front of her.
She battled all the way to the line . . . Third place and no stewards inquiry.
After all her hard effort, Toon quickly resigned herself to the fact that she would be missing out on the Olympics due to underhand tactics.
As good luck would have it, she qualified for the final as one of the fastest losers.
The Final Race (400m)
The rules for the final were simple, the first three automatically went into the Olympic team, with a few places up for grabs as squad members.
The students were called to the line for the final, true to form, Toon was last over again.
She had held herself back as all the other students lined up. Once everyone had settled, there was one vacant lane left. That's right, you guessed it, in between the same two tall girls again.
Back then, there were no allocated lane numbers, and the two girls had set their proven trap once more.
Feeling aggrieved with the manner of her first ever loss, Toon got to the start line for the final with a different game plan.
This time around, she walked straight passed the empty lane and asked another student (in the outside lane) if she wouldn't mind swapping with her.
Everyone had seen how scared of the start pistol Toon was in the first race, and the girl kindly agreed to move. Toon was now far away from the starter's pistol as possible, but more importantly, well away from the two other girls.
This was Toon's big chance, and revenge was at the forefront of her mind.
Student Olympic Qualification
Toon still says to this day it was the closest race of her life.
She had done it, she had come in first, by the smallest of margins, but first.
Automatic qualification to the student Olympics and the honor to represent Thailand.
All this had been achieved against older and bigger athletes.
As the race meet wound down, the qualifying student's coaches and parents went off for a briefing with the Olympic team selectors.
Toon remained sat outside the meeting room, happy but alone. It was never possible for any of Toon's family to go and watch her race.
The farm always came first and foremost. That's what put food on the household's table.
While sat waiting quietly, Toon noticed two older girls walking towards her. It didn't take her long to recognize that it was the girls who had fouled her in the semifinal round.
One of them had qualified, the other one had missed out but got a place in the squad.
It soon became apparent that they now had another underhand plan up their sleeves.
Assaulted by other Students
Toon took a beating.
So much so, she was knocked unconscious.
Toon still remembers it today, the threat that they'd kill her if she turned up to the training camp.
When she came to, she was alone, in pain, and with a battered face. The two girls had returned to their parent's car, waiting for the meeting to end.
As Toon looked at them across the carpark, they both made a knife across their throat gesture.
When the meeting finally drew to a close, and the adults began to filter out, Toon's teacher immediately noticed her swollen face.
When asked what had happened, she chose to lie and said that she'd fallen over.
By now the selectors had gathered around offering support and were asking who had bullied her. Everyone could see what had happened, but Toon's stance remained, 'I fell, sir.'
Student Olympic Heartache
She followed this up by asking not to be selected to represent Thailand.
The officials asked her to reconsider, but her mind was made up.
Toon later found out that during that meeting, the selectors had agreed in principle to help Toon's family by covering the costs for her traveling and food while attending the training camps.
After reluctantly accepting Toon's request to withdraw from the team, the officials left the door open for her to make a possible return.
They said that if she chose not to return, then they looked forward to seeing her run again in the years to come.
For the next two years, Toon ran her races.
As expected, the first places continued to flow with just one additional blot on her perfect record, another third place. Toon still puts this down to her older brother's friend putting a strong smelling muscle rub on her legs that made her feel sick.
Some schools even refused point blank to run against the fasted girl in the country. So much so, that on one particular race meet Toon was bizarrely entered under the name of another student who no one had ever heard of.
Toon never did get the chance to try out to represent her country again.
The reasons why are a whole other story, maybe for the future.
Lifelong Passion for Athletics
When you listen to Toon telling her racing stories from years gone by, you can hear in her voice the passion she still harbors for her beloved athletics.
I am amazed that she feels no malice against those two girls and has never spoken ill of them to this day. Instead, she sees their actions as kids being kids.
Toon finds comfort that she and everyone else knows she beat them fairly on the day when it counted most.
For someone who is so incredibly proud of her country, to be denied the opportunity to represent it is unthinkable to me.
I, for one, would be carrying that around as emotional baggage to my dying day had the same happened to me.
But not Toon.
Finding Inner Strength in Adversity
I put her inner strength down to her father and the values he was able to pass on to her.
Here's some of the advice he gave to Toon:
Anything that scares you look at it, and look at it until it doesn't scare you anymore.
When someone does bad to you, pay them back. Somehow, some way. It doesn't matter when but pay them back.
Occasionally when I find myself doubting our ability to carry out or complete a challenging task on the farm, Toon will often say to me:
'Leigh, who am I?
Whose daughter am I?
We can do it.'
Some of us are fortunate enough to meet amazing people during our lifetime.
Some are even luckier than that and get to spend their lives with such an incredible person.
This story is dedicated to Wandee.
The fastest little girl in Thailand.
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