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Vietnamese athletes find joy in post-pro life

Friday, March 08, 2019, 14:20 GMT+7
Vietnamese athletes find joy in post-pro life
Former national runner Truong Thanh Hang (first right) is seen during a training session of the talent team in the northern province of Ninh Binh. Photo: H.T. / Tuoi Tre

After years spent overcoming injury and incidents on their road to athletic glory, these two former professional Vietnamese athletes – a judoka and a track-and-field runner – have managed to build fulfilling post-retirement lives for themselves.

Athletes who compete at international levels spend decades following strict practice programs, battling injury and riding the roller coaster of success.

Le Duc Cong, a famous Vietnamese judoka who made a name for himself in the 1980s for his international success in the under-100kg category is no exception.

The decades Cong spent cutting weight and following brutal practice regimens have left him with dozens of medals, but his success came at a steep cost: persistent spinal pain, blood infections, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and obesity.

Now, as he begins to age, the dozens of injuries he underwent both during and after his career have left him significantly worse for wear. 

To top it off, his health problems have put a serious limitation on his post-pro career options. 

He is simply too unhealthy to be a coach, a P.E. teacher, or even a security guard.

But for Cong, there is still a silver lining – enough free time to focus on photography, a hobby he has had since he was in his youth.

“I first got into photography when I was young,” Cong told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, explaining that he treasures the photos of himself taken by reporters at his competitions.

He began investing in professional photography gear and, while bedridden after a surgery in 2011, began dedicating himself to perfecting his craft.

“The doctor advised me to do some sort of physical activity, so I took my devices and went outside [to take photos] to practice and eliminate my boredom,” said Cong.

Over time, Cong began to make more friends in the local photography community and believes he has found a second career for himself.

Former national judoka Le Duc Cong. Photo: H.D. / Tuoi Tre

Former national judoka Le Duc Cong. Photo: H.D. / Tuoi Tre

“I had opportunities to meet many members of a photography association and we’ve taken many fun trips together,” he said.

“I’ve attended several photography competitions and also won some prizes,” he said, adding that getting out and about to take photos has led to serious improvements in his health.

Cong even uses the hobby to make extra cash by working as a photographer for weddings and other events.

From athlete to coach

While Cong’s judo career was ended by a serious complex health problem that had built up over time, the professional career of Truong Thanh Hang, a young star on Vietnam’s track-and-field team who specialized in the women’s 800-meter and 1,500-meter events in 2007-2010, came to an abrupt halt that caught her, her family, and her coaches completely off guard.

In 2012, Hang was running on a street in the central city of Da Nang when she was hit by a motorbike and broke her leg.

The incident led to the end of her career in 2015, when she realized that she would never be able to fully recover from the injury.

“I was shocked and depressed because I had to retire from my career just when I was at the top,” Hang said.

Bidding farewell to her athletics career, Hang took a shot at several other jobs including running an eatery, selling sporting equipment, and online sales.

But as the female runner began to realize that none of those jobs would bring her the same happiness as running, she decided to set her sights on rejoining the sport.

“My living conditions were better when I ran businesses in different fields, which were also my hobbies when I was young, but only athletics made me truly happy,” she said.

Hang eventually decided to take a job as an athletics coach for a team in the northern province of Ninh Binh, her mother’s hometown.

Although being a coach and a mother of two is no easy job, Hang shared that none of those difficulties can outweigh the joy she feels while on the track.

“Although it is hard and I cannot run, I still feel happy with my life now because I can stick to track-and-field and teach the students how to run,” the 33-year-old woman said.

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