Not one to let her disability put a damper on life, Ras Adiba Radzi is learning that every cloud has a silver lining, writes INTAN MAIZURA AHMAD KAMAL “WHEN I was able, I could hardly win anything. Since I’ve been disabled, I’ve been crowned beauty queen and have a whole cupboard full of medals. My late brother used to say I bought them from the shops!” says Ras Adiba Radzi, chuckling warmly.With her recent selection by Samsung Malaysia Electronics as one of the Beijing 2008 Olympic torchbearers, she adds yet another feather in her cap.Ras, along with squash queen Nicol David, Datin Paduka Sharifah Mazlina Syed Abdul Kadir (first Asian woman to conquer the North and South Poles) and Malaysian shuttler Lee Chong Wei are Samsung’s pick of inspirational role models. “It’s an honour, not only for me but also for my community,” she says, before cheekily adding: “When they told me I was going to be carrying the torch for 250 metres, I said ‘that’s all, ah!’.”As she breaks into laughter, it dawned on me why she thought it comical. Here was a woman who, in her own words, was “mad enough” to push herself in a wheelchair from Johor Baru to Putrajaya and as a result, set a record for the longest journey in a wheelchair. “I did it to call attention to the disabled but also because I was very angry at what was happening to me. Not being able to walk and dance – I love to dance, to freefall from 3,000m and ride my bikes. I couldn’t do all that anymore.”I remember when Ras, who is presently the PR and Corporate Social Responsibility director for Carrefour, used to strut the hallowed corridors of TV3. She was one of the station’s Golden Girls and one of its top anchorwoman, alongside Normala Shamsuddin and Tengku Elida Bustaman. But after an accident in 1995, she became a paraplegic. “When I became disabled, things changed,” recalls Ras. “Many people couldn’t handle the fact that I could not walk. Friends stopped calling. They didn’t know how to talk to me anymore. I was sad but it’s like when somebody dies, what can you say?”She adds: “I also lost everything I’d worked for as I joined TV3 when I was 18. In the end I knew I needed to gather myself together, no matter what it took.“In the beginning, I was just grappling, trying to learn how to live again. They say if you’re born disabled, it’s different. What you don’t know, you don’t care about. For a year and a half, I stayed home, in my bedroom, because I couldn’t understand this change. I just talked to God all the time — he was my only friend. Everybody thought I was losing my marbles!”The turning point came when she bumped into some disabled athletes at a shopping mall. “I was shocked when someone told me that these people — who had no legs, no hands and were in wheelchairs — were athletes,” recalls Ras. “They explained to me they were in different kinds of activities and that’s when I started to borrow their spirits. I immersed myself with a new group of friends and learned how they coped.”Although things were tough in the early days, like “not being able to go to the toilet, learning to use diapers, urinary bags and getting out of bed”, she didn’t give up. For six years, the driven Leo admits, she inspired herself to rise above her predicament. “I made a list of things I wanted to do – fly a plane, drive a car, cook, get married, have kids, read the news, do a marathon, be a paralympian. I’ve realised half of the things on the list. I keep telling myself to ‘focus, you’re the captain of your ship. Nothing’s going to change if you don’t do it yourself’.”Her family, especially her late brother, was her pillar of strength. And God. Ras confides: “You talk to Him, you cry… after that, when you sleep, you feel like He’s put a blanket on top of you. God doesn’t answer back immediately but he leaves different signs.“I have the gift of the gab so I decided to put it to good use. I went back to theatre, which I love, and produced Merdeka di Mataku and Freedom In My Eyes.” Today, Ras, who is president of Persatuan Perwira K-9, a society that helps disabled accident victims to re-enter society, is writing, producing, directing and presenting programmes for TV9 and RTM. She also swims, plays badminton (in a special chair), does long distance marathons and, she proudly adds, is waiting for a wildcard to represent Malaysia in air rifle shooting!Life is sweeter now with the arrival of her one-year-old adopted son, Umar Ras Engel Abdullah. “People say I saved his life when actually he saved mine. He made me feel whole. He doesn’t care if mummy can walk or not. He loves my wheels and he doesn’t have prejudices.”The Malaysian leg of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Torch relay will be in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow. This will be the second time since 1964 that the Olympic torch is passing through the country and Malaysians can witness the prestigious sporting symbol up-close. By INTAN MAIZURA AHMAD KAMAL
“We are like diamonds waiting to be polished”. This is how ex-newscaster Ras Adiba Radzi describes the disabled community. Ras Adiba, who became paraplegic after an accident in 2002, pulled herself together and strived to succeed again in the media world where she produced and did voice recording for both television and radio. The high-spirited Ras Adiba has also got involved in theatre. Last night, she showcased her talent in the play Merdeka di Mataku (Freedom to My Eyes) which combines poetry and dance movements. In the play, which will run again tonight at the KL Performing Arts Centre, Ras Adiba plays a physically challenged person who uses her upper torso to “dance” on the stage floor. “The play is to show what the disabled community have achieved so far. What an able community can do, we can do too. And we demand respect and equal treatment just like anyone else,” she said. I DANCE, TOO: Ras Adiba showing her seated style of dancing which she will employ in the play tonight at the KL Performing Arts Centre. Ras Adiba said the performance portrayed her in different phases of her life - sharing her journey, struggles, loves and hopes in life. “Although physically challenged, I want to show the public that we, the disabled community can also sing, dance and do artistic performances,” she added. “It's nice if people can give us the same respect and opportunities as normal people. We do not want to be pitied but to be given equal chances in life. “I believe God has a reason for everything that happens to each and everyone of us. “The disabled community is always very gung-ho about trying new things. We want to do new things, be out there and be recognised. Let us grow as it will only turn us into better human beings. We just need the people to recognise and give us a chance.” She described Malaysians as a curious but caring lot. “I believe if there is more awareness and understanding about the disabled community, then the world will be a much brighter and happier place.” Tickets for the performance are priced at RM30 and RM15 (students, the disabled, and senior citizens). By JO TEHKUALA LUMPUR.