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Project Wongstar: A Reintroduction of Sorts « Jocelyn Wong's Blog


Project Wongstar: A Reintroduction of Sorts


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:

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