- Title: South Korean soldier disabled in DMZ landmine blast - eyes Paralympic gold
- Date: 17th October 2019
- Summary: DEMILITARISED ZONE, SOUTH KOREA (FILE - OCTOBER 2, 2018) (REUTERS) LANDMINE REMOVAL OPERATION IN PROGRESS VARIOUS OF SOLDIERS WORKING WITH MINE DETECTOR
- Embargoed: 31st October 2019 00:37
- Keywords: Paralympics Olympics rowing soldier demilitarised zone DMZ landmine Tokyo South Korea 2020
- Location: HANAM, SEOUL AND DEMILITARISED ZONE, SOUTH KOREA
- City: HANAM, SEOUL AND DEMILITARISED ZONE, SOUTH KOREA
- Country: South Korea
- Topics: Olympics,Sport,Editors' Choice
- Reuters ID: LVA005B1HH1S7
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:It wasn't a duty assigned to South Korean staff sergeant Ha Jae-hun, but after a colleague was assigned for training, he volunteered to lead seven other soldiers on an early morning patrol within the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) along the border with North Korea.
Just after 7:35 a.m. on that August morning in 2015, Ha was the first to arrive at a gate to the DMZ. He took a step forward, waving at the others to wait.
The next thing he remembers is being thrown to the ground, both of his lower legs stripped to the bone, feeling unspeakable pain. Other members of the patrol were also wounded, though less severely.
Four years and 21 rounds of surgery later, Ha is hoping to turn the rowing skills he learned in rehabilitation into Paralympic gold in upcoming summer games.
"I lost both my legs because of a land mine accident in the military. Now, I am a disabled rower working hard to become a medalist," Ha said as he practiced at the rowing course on a river east of Seoul.
"I have to stay cautious on the river and focused, which doesn't allow other thoughts and keeps me at ease."
It was a peace that was hard to find for Ha, now 25 years old. Besides the physical pain, he said he also had to fight back feelings of hatred for North Korea, which South Korea blamed for planting the landmine that he stepped on.
"I wouldn't say I don't get mad at North Korea," he said. "But just as I myself was a soldier, those who installed the mines must've followed an order. So sometimes I wonder what's there to blame."
The incident resulted in him relying on prosthetic legs for the rest of his life, but Ha said he was glad to be able to walk again, "like a baby taking his first steps."
Ha left the military in January and joined a national para rowing team, winning a series of local and global competitions and is now aiming to compete in next year's Paralympics in Tokyo.
He's realistic but optimistic about his chances as a newcomer, hoping to earn a spot at Tokyo games by qualifying in the Asian Rowing Championships in April 2020, and eventually to win a gold medal in 2024 in France.
Ha's innate physical strength and willpower, as well as discipline from the military, fuelled his rapid ascent in the endurance sport, said Lim Myung-woong, the national team coach who encouraged his transition.
Beyond his newfound passion in rowing, Ha also hopes that societal attitudes towards people with disabilities could change for the better and that him wearing shorts with his highly-visible black prosthetic legs could help spark that change.
(Production: Dogyun Kim, Hyunyoung Yi)
- Copyright Holder: FILE REUTERS (CAN SELL)
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