Lê Tiến Đạt celebrates his win at the fourth Asian Para Games in October in China. VNS Photo Thái Dương

Born in Châu Thành District in the Mekong Delta province of Đồng Tháp, Lê Tiến Đạt loved his homeland criss-crossed with rivers and canals.

Life was peaceful for his farming family of three children until Đạt suffered from a bout of polio when he was three, causing permanent paralysis of his legs.

The boy struggled to overcome many challenges to ensure he could have a bright future, gaining a BA in Information Technology. But it was not the degree that made him well known, but swimming.

"My disability left me isolated at school, no one wanted to play with me. It was really sad,” he said.

As Đạt could not walk, his family would row a boat to take him to school and wait to take him home every day. The boy felt discouraged and wanted to quit.

"I spoke with my parents about quitting and staying home to help them, but they did not agree. My mother said learning would help me have a good job, and I could take care of myself because no one could support me my whole life," Đạt said. "It was a motivation for me to study harder."

Lê Tiến Đạt in action in the men's 100m breaststroke SB5 event at the fourth APG. He clocks 1:34.04 to top the podium. — VNS Photo Thái Dương

In 2006, he became an IT student of Cần Thơ University.

His dream came true and Đạt was happy with his new life, nurturing another dream of being a white-collar worker, "going to work in the morning, returning home to family in the evening".

He was an optimistic and active student and practised swimming during leisure time, and soon registered to compete in the National Sports Games for People with Disabilities in 2008.

Coaches found Đạt naturally talented and trained him to win medals. He was given basic techniques and trained to improve in every possible aspect. It was an important turning point in his life to become a professional athlete.

In his national tournament debut, Đạt won three gold medals and was called to the national team for the ASEAN Para Games in 2009.

Life changed

It was another big moment for Đạt as he pocketed two golds at the regional competition. The first milestone in his life that suggested he should switch to a new career.

But, Đạt still wanted to pursue a career in IT. After his graduation, he applied for jobs in many companies, expecting a good income to support his family.

Lê Tiến Đạt wins Việt Nam's only gold at the fourth APG. — VNS Photo Thái Dương

"With swimming, I could earn small money whenever there were tournaments. After that, I would struggle to feed my family. There were only one to two events for us every year. It was not enough to live," he said.

Nevertheless, despite waiting, Đạt did not have any phone call to offer him a job.

“It was difficult to find suitable work. I felt sad and disappointed. Luckily, I could still swim. Swimming gradually developed at that time and I thought that I should just swim and think about other issues later," he said. ”Once I decided to pursue swimming, I threw away a heavy burden and life was much easier."

Đạt focused on swimming and began strongly improving his techniques and fitness. He pocketed golds and set new records in the ASEAN Para Games in 2013, 2022 and 2023.

He also bagged medals in the Asian Para Games in 2014 and 2018.

Lê Tiến Đạt (centre) is champion and record holder at the ASEAN Games in June in Cambodia. — VNS Photo Thái Dương

But the peak of his career came this October in China, when Đạt, 35, won Việt Nam's only gold medal at the Hangzhou Asian Para Games.

Đạt, finished first in the men's 100m breaststroke SB5 event, clocking in at 1:34.04 on October 27.

“I suffered a little pressure before my competition. However, I was determined to be in the medal group," he said.

"When I was in the water, I asked myself to swim as fast as possible and earn the top result. I was thrilled to win a valuable gold, which was a gift for my family, relatives and friends who stood by my side supporting me in the hard days of training.

"It was my honour and pride when I brought Việt Nam victory from the continental Games," he said.

Đạt's achievement of four golds, one silver and three records at the ASEAN Para Games and one gold at the Asian Para Games this year have made him a strong candidate for the national Victory Cup's Athlete for People with Disabilities.

“I am surprised to be named in the Cup's list. The Victory Cup is a dream of everyone as it recognises our contribution to national sport," he said.

"I always dreamed of one day holding this prestigious trophy. Hopefully, I will be lucky enough to be a winner." VNS