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Archive for February, 2009

Tigaon Mission Report

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Feb 4-7, 2009

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Less than 48 hours after landing in Manila from San Francisco, I was back at the airport for a short 45-minute flight to Naga in the Camarines Sur province. (I didn’t know until 2 weeks later that this is also where the inaugural Philippines 70.3 triathlon is going to be held in August.) It was a very bumpy flight on a small plane but I just held my breath and pretended I was at an amusement park. Although I find some roller coasters to be terrifying so I don’t know where that logic came from.

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It was my first overnight mission with Physicians for Peace (PFP) and I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I was here last September & October, I helped out with some of the one-day missions to Pampanga province (no Manny, not “Panga-panga!”). I learned that every mission is different, regarding where we stay and where we see the patients. We drove out to the small town of Tigaon and stayed in a dormitory-style government building complete with bunk beds. It was like going to summer camp! I roomed with the optometrists but there were also many American dentists from Virginia Beach and some surgeons as well.

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Our first day, Wednesday, was kind of a “settling-in day” so they took us on a short boat ride to a little island, where I got in an open water swim (yay) and we all had fresh coconut juice right off the trees. There happened to be a random guy walking around the island with a wooden leg he had fashioned himself! He did not know about the mission and definitely needed something that fit better, so he was happily recruited for a new prosthetic fitting and would be our first patient the next morning.

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Later that night we were taken to the outdoor sports complex, where we would be evaluating and casting our patients. It was like an outdoor gymnasium with a basketball court, bleachers, and an auditorium stage. The locals were playing a game of pick-up basketball while a mass of bats were flying around the ceiling and screeching. I found the bats to be a bit unnerving but nobody else seemed fazed! We had dinner with the mayor of Tigaon, Mayor Fuentebella, who would host us for all our dinners at his family’s swanky house. He asked how tall I was and was so impressed (I’m easily taller than the average Filipino male) that he said I should do beauty pangeants. When I stopped laughing, I realized he was actually be serious…but he’s a politician so who can be sure? I didn’t tell him about the time I entered the Miss Asian Atlanta “scholarship pageant” when I was in grad school, but that’s another story.

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The next morning we headed over to the sports complex. It was divided into three sections, not unlike a three-ring circus, where about half of the space went to the dentists performing tooth extractions (I think they saw over 200 patients in 3 days), the optometrists performed eye exams and gave out eyeglasses, and we in the prosthetics section evaluated amputees and casted their limbs for new prosthetic legs. Many patients were already waiting and had filled up the bleachers.

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Notable patients included:

Our friend from the beach. I didn’t get a good photo of his wooden leg unfortunately.

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However there was this one fellow who made his own prosthesis out of metal (maybe part of a coffee can?), rubber, and string for suspension.

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I helped cast this girl who had outgrown her previous prosthesis. She had to miss a day of school but hopefully it was well worth it!

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Then there was this young woman who at 21 years of age had been born with clubfeet on both sides and has literally been walking on the tops of her feet her whole life. Since your feet aren’t designed to bear weight on this side, she had developed a pretty bad ulcer on the right foot. Physicians for Peace will be “adopting” her and sponsor her surgeries–she will mostly have both of her feet amputated and be fitted with bilateral prosthetic legs, which will allow her to actually be a much more functional and pain-free walker.

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The prostheses will be fabricated in the Manila PGH clinic since there isn’t a lab in the Bicol area. The technicians will either return to deliver and fit the legs, or more likely, PFP may sponsor the patients to fly into Manila to be fit and then given physical therapy to help learn to walk with their new legs.

Project Wongstar: A Reintroduction of Sorts

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

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Before I launch into a full report on the two prosthetic missions I did this month, I thought I might reintroduce myself as we’ve got new teammates and new sponsors (and potential sponsors always!) and my most favorite, new blog fans. I know that what I do is a little…weird? different? unusual? unique? so it’s always good to have a re-explanation.

Obviously I’m not phenomenally talented, especially when training in a group with all these Ironman champions–speed is relative and here I’m the dreaded S word…S-L-O-W. I’ve been doing triathlons since 2000 and if you just glance through my teammates’ profiles you can see that many have been racing PRO since 2000. I can’t even call myself one of those shitty American pros because I have yet to qualify for my USAT pro license, plus it has come into question whether I am even American or not. Yes, my passport tells me I am, but the other day Coach said something offhand about how there are no American girls on the team–what am I then, some bastard child from an imaginary country? Now, knowing Coach’s high opinion of Americans (did you catch the sarcasm?) I wasn’t sure if I should be offended or feel well, flattered. HA!! That tricky Coach and his Jedi mind tricks.

So realizing after college that the whole pro triathlete fantasy was a bit of a stretch, I decided to pursue…a real job. I went to grad school for prosthetics and orthotics (P&O), and am now what you call a prosthetist-orthotist. And yes, I realize that prosthetist sounds very similar to another 3-syllable “profession” that starts with “p-r-o-s-t-” and has 3 T’s in it. Honestly it must have been some horrible joke made by the founding fathers of our male-dominated field that just stuck. I took the last of my board exams last month and when I get my passing scores back I’ll be a CPO (certified prosthetist-orthotist). We’re considered practitioners but we’re not doctors; we don’t do surgery or diagnose illnesses. Prosthetics involves designing, fabricating, and fitting artificial legs and arms, and orthotics aren’t just custom insoles–they also include leg braces, spinal braces for scoliosis, neck braces and custom “helmets” for babies born with funny-shaped heads. The most invasive thing we do is fit halos–remember in the movie Mean Girls when what’s-her-name gets hit by the school bus and has to wear a halo to prom? Yeah, there are pins that get screwed right into the surface of the skull to help stabilize high-level neck fractures.

I’m partial to the prosthetics side of P&O and you definitely see a lot more of the cool new prosthetic technology in the media and definitely at many triathlons, what with how big the Challenged Athletes Foundation has gotten and so many soldiers coming home with injuries from Iraq and Afghanistan. When I first thought about going into prosthetics, I read about how you can volunteer for the International Red Cross and do missions over in Southeast Asia, especially in places like Cambodia and Vietnam, where there are a lot of people (many of them kids) who have lost arms and legs in landmine accidents. Having never even been abroad until this past year, I definitely wanted to participate in something like this as my family’s roots are in Southeast Asia. Both sets of my grandparents are from the south coast of China (on the mainland but actually quite close to where IM China is held); my mom was born and raised in Burma and my dad was born in China and grew up in Hong Kong.

Along the way, I kept doing triathlon and kept improving rather slowly, but I still haven’t even broken 12 hours in an Ironman or even qualified for Kona as an age grouper. (Technically I am classified as a “development athlete” on the team.) I applied to be on Team TBB back in 2007, not realizing just how big (and fast) this whole thing was going to be (or who the coach even was!), but I figured that the team needed a future Asian Triathlon Superstar if they were based in Asia. My one condition (and who was I to demand any conditions?) was that I needed to first go through my last year of my prosthetics residency so I could take my board exams, so I could then do some prosthetic missions around Southeast Asia.

So now…here I am. Project Wongstar consists of me going around Southeast Asia to help make and fit prosthetic limbs (legs mostly, but maybe an arm or two for the guy pictured above). On the athletic side, Project Wongstar involves seeing just how fast Coach and the team can get me, from being an age-grouper nobody to a professional somebody someday. I am definitely a work in progress but one of my favorite quotes is “Hard work closes the gap to the more talented.” So my plan is to work harder and become mentally tougher than everybody else, because I’m really not giving Coach much to start off with. ;)

For more info on the field of prosthetics and orthotics, you can check out these links:
www.opcareers.org
www.oandp.com

Valentine’s Date with Training Camp

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

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The morning of Valentine’s Day I packed up my many things and said goodbye to Casa Concepcion in Manila, making my way up to Subic Bay (at last!) for a date with Coach and my many new teammates. Wow our team is big! I missed half of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre but got in the second half that ran well into the evening. There are over 20 bikes that are lined up against the bleachers when we’re running our laps. Pretty cool! The atmosphere is extremely motivating. I’m living with Caroline (aka “Battery” or “Miss South Africa”) and Angela (“Miss Avia”) and we actually have a REAL kitchen and REAL refrigerator. I know, so exciting (!!!) after living out of the hotel and “secretly” cooking in the bathroom. And now I can actually buy raw meat and it won’t go bad after one day in the mini-bar. Of course after 2 weeks of less-than-ideal training and doing half of a Valentine’s massacre, I was tired enough last night that I pulled a Donna and had cereal for dinner.

This afternoon we had a team bonding experience over at Frank’s place, Playa Papagayo, just a short jeepney ride outside of the base. But first I went over on a little trip to Clark (the former US Air Force Base, about a 40-min drive out of Subic). They’ve just opened up a new prosthetics center at Clark Polytechnic and invited me over for the grand opening ceremony. I’m gonna have to arrange to head over there sometime to work on the arm patient we casted in Zamboanga. I was under the impression that they just “don’t do arms” here in the Philippines but oh lucky day, here is a prosthetist from America that just happens to be here… so this guy is my “special project.” I will get pictures posted up from the two missions after I get them uploaded.

In the meantime I will leave you with How to Become an Asian Triathlon Superstar, Step #12: Get comfortable in front of the camera. Someday soon when I’m an international hotshot and the magazines all come calling with their fancy cameras, it will be important that I can take pictures without grimacing when I try to smile (like that episode of Friends with Chandler hahahahahaha). So I did some practicing on my last mission…as you can see, it’s not all work and no fun! I couldn’t help myself…and no, it wasn’t Disneyland, it was the Governor’s Provincial Guest House. Which happened to have just absolutely fabulous lawn decor. The cast of Disney characters were practically begging for a photoshoot with the Wongstar. and if you don’t know me very well, this gives you a glimpse into the Wongstar personality. Enjoy!

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Zamboanga!

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

another day, another one of the Philippine islands to explore…

I flew into Dipolog City around lunch time and they put us straight to work right away! It’s my second mission this year with Physicians for Peace (well yeah this month actually). Dipolog is in the province of Zamboanga Del Norte, or “ZaNorte” for short (cute huh? like Brangelina), in the Mindanao region of the southern Philippines.

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so here I am, just another short update as I am on a wifi connection that actually lets me access the TBB site! if anyone was wondering why I have not updated or went MIA on the team forum…it’s cuz I was having connection problems on my wifi network in Manila. argh! I have a bunch of pictures to post from the Tigaon mission and then will also fill you in on the one here. it was pretty darn busy today.

Training is a little wacko and I’m antsy to finally get up to Subic this coming weekend. I haven’t been in a proper swimming pool since arriving in this country over a week ago, although mini ocean dips have been nice. We saw most of our patients (if not all of them) today so I will actually have time these next couple days to go on some longer runs and longer ocean swims. Last Sunday I went on a 5.5-hour group ride in Manila with the Fitness First cycling boys which was a crazy adventure and deserves its own blog entry. Running consists of doing neighborhood laps around San Juan or hitting the track at the Ultra Sports Complex.

anyway this time they actually put us in a hotel with WIFI…so expect more blogging. hooray!

2009 prosthetics mission #1: Tigaon, Philippines

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

hello! it’s day 2 here in Tigaon (Camarines Sur province, Bicol region–see the map!). I’m here on my first medical mission of the year, which is sponsored by Physicians for Peace, the local government here, and interestingly enough Globe, one of the local cell phone providers (and the one I chose to buy a SIM card from coincidentally). Got here yesterday (Wednesday morning) and will be flying back to Manila on Saturday morning. It’s sort of rural here with no wifi signals, so I thought I’d try to go without internet for four days…ha!! Found myself an internet cafe during today’s break and it’s only 10 pesos for an hour (yeah….like 20 cents!!)

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The hardest part of being a pro triathlete who does social projects is doing both at the same time. yesterday I got a chance to jump in the ocean for a short swim when they took us on a tour of the local beach. The water was amazingly clear! I went on a run today at 5:30am, just up and down the road, which was very well-lit with very little traffic. I’ve been waking up at 5am every morning automatically as my internal clock adjusts so that was painless, and the weather here is surprisingly cool. Next week I’ll be going to Zamboanga, which is on the southern islands, from Tuesday until Friday. In between the trips, when in Manila, I’m trying to do a lot of biking on the turbo trainer and run laps around the San Juan neighborhood. I’ll try to get hooked up with a group ride and hit the pool with local triathlete Ani.

So I won’t be showing up in Subic for rookie camp, season 2, until around Sunday the 15th. Coach also made the executive decision that there’s no way this situation will allow me to get ready for IM Malaysia at the end of the month, so that’s now off the race schedule. I felt a little pouty at first but now that I’m here, I couldn’t agree more! It is hard enough trying to fit in just one or two hours training and that’s just not adequate. gotta choose your battles. Right now the priority is to help make some prosthetic legs and somehow maintain my fitness level during whatever spare time we have.

Anyway, I’m here with 3 of the prosthetic technicians from the Manila hospital (PGH). We took casts and measurements of 4 patients today but the bulk of them are coming tomorrow. This is a pretty big medical mission with a contingent of dentists from the USA doing tooth extractions and other procedures, a few optometrists taking care of the eyes, and some surgeons doing I’m-not-sure-what (surgery of some sort). We actually recruited a guy from the beach yesterday who was walking around on a really old wooden leg! Random!!

I’ll post up pics from the mission when I’m back in Manila in 2 days. and more details on the mission of course. Just thought you’d like a short update while I’m here!

the obligatory Tokyo airport blog post.

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

hiiii it’s your favorite future Asian Triathlon Superstar checking in from the Tokyo airport. I realized while flying that it’s my 3rd trip to Asia in only 10 months, such a far cry from just a year ago, when I had never been overseas as of February 2008.

now it’s starting to feel like same ole, same ole! the cool toilets with the bidets and musical “flushing sound,” being spoken to in Japanese because I may very well be…and of course feeling extremely tall. The girls here are all…shoulder level. ha!!!

I pulled an all-nighter last night getting things ready and my attempt to trick the jet-lag fairy. (Someone suggested this on the forum.) I then slept the first half of the flight and decided it was time to pretend it was “morning” and now I am very alert! (It is currently 5pm here and midnight at home.) I think it’s working. It feels like the afternoon!

best of all I didn’t get charged for my bike! woohoo! There was a very nice, cute strapping young Japanese fellow who checked me and Blue Steel in. (I’m flying Japan Airlines.) I tried to wow him/distract him by mentioning my triathlon training camp adventure. Ah the little victories. I love flying through Japan. They are so nice and cordial and peaceful. with great little rice snacks and mochis and green tea…

next stop Manila!! :)

packing time again

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

it’s our favorite time of the year again…time to pack for boot camp! I am trying to pack light(er) as Coach seems to give me endless crap about overpacking. so here goes….just a bike box, a big suitcase, and a triathlon backpack. Of course I did leave a bunch of my tri clothes with Ria in Manila from the last camp (didn’t need my summer clothes) and there’s the giant “care package” box probably on a boat in the middle of the Pacific on the way to the PI…

Here is Blue Steel getting wrapped and padded with some insulation, in case he gets cold while on the airplane:

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Rumor has it that there might be another new P2C waiting for the Wongstar at camp…ooh la la! I know, Blue Steel thinks “WTF? you just got me last January!” yeah, poor guy, I think we’ve only just started getting to know each other too. But no complaints from me! It’s been a great year together, Blue Steel, and we all know that even a one-year relationship with a bike is longer than most of my relationships with the human variety.

Fingers crossed again for no excess bag charges!