An inspirational player

An outstanding athlete and a controversial official made headlines for different reasons in 2012

Thailand's disabled athletes won eight medals _ four golds, two silvers and two bronzes _ at the 2012 Paralympic Games, outshining their compatriots at the Olympics, who won only two silvers and one bronze.

‘‘ I worked extra hard on my training to clinch first position. My aim to get a gold medal was not just for myself but also for everyone who trusted in me to do well

"On behalf of the government and the Thai people, we are proud of you all," Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told the Paralympic contingent at a reception party.

"You showed your commitment and discipline to achieve your goals. You have set a good example for everyone."

The star of the Thai Paralympic squad was boccia player Pattaya Tadtong, who won two golds in the mixed team _ with Watcharaphon Vongsa, Witsanu Huadpradit and Mongkol Jitsa-ngiem _ and men's individual.

The other two gold medallists were fencer Saysunee Jana and table tennis star Rungroj Thainiyom.

Pattaya not only won golds but also his compatriots' hearts and helped introduce many Thais to boccia _ which is similar to petanque, with which Thais are familiar.

Pattaya received 12 million baht in financial rewards from the government, which he insisted he would spend wisely.

"I want to use part of the money to build a gymnasium for disabled athletes," said the 33-year-old, who won bronze at the 2004 Games.

"Hopefully my success at the Paralympics will not just set an example for other disabled athletes to follow, but will also educate physically able-bodied people to understand that their counterparts work equally hard to train and compete before they're able to capture medals."

Pattaya, who suffers from mixed cerebral palsy, seems unfazed by the media attention. In fact, he said it made him happy.

"I am not tired of giving interviews and being photographed _ it makes me happy," the Amnat Charoen native explained.

When speaking, Pattaya has to muster intense concentration in pronouncing each sentence. Sometimes Pattaya has to use his right hand to control his neck from involuntary movement.

"Competing makes me feel good about myself ," he said. "I worked extra hard on my training to clinch first position. My aim to get a gold medal was not just for myself but also for everyone who trusted in me to do well."

Born into a middle-class farming family in Amnat Charoen province, Pattaya was diagnosed when he was three years old as having mixed cerebral palsy _ a combination of spastic and athetoid _ which causes tightened muscle tone and involuntary movement.

"Pattaya's father gave me complete responsibility to care for our son, so he could concentrate on bringing in the money," his mother Chaweewan said.

"From the age of three to 12, I carried him on a local bus from our village to a provincial hospital to receive physiotherapy. Afterwards, when he became too heavy for me to carry, I decided to administer therapy at home.

"Pattaya has a good head on his shoulders and is responsible. He also knows how to reason and likes to keep goals in life.

"I don't worry about him because he knows what is good for him. He has made his family proud of him. If the right woman comes along, I will be happy to see him have a life partner."

Pattaya was named the best disabled athlete of the year by the Sports Authority of Thailand.