“I began swimming when I was seven years old,” revealed Paralympian swimmer Jamery Siga. The Sarawak native had little to fear wading in the murky waters of his neighbourhood tributary of Kuala Mendalam, Limbang, years ago … but things have changed dramatically over the years … and with potentially hazardous consequences. “There were no crocodiles then, but now there are,” he shared with a cheeky smile, setting the tone for a heartwarming interview at the Kompleks Kecemerlangan Sukan Paralimpik in Kuala Lumpur.

He was hard at work, going through the paces in his selected disciplines of 200m freestyle, 100m backstroke and 50m butterfly. In the upcoming 9th Asean Para Games, Jamery will represent Malaysia in the S5 (cerebral palsy) category.

The Asean Para Games will be held from Sept 17-23, while the SEA Games will take place from Aug 19-30. The Games will coincide with the celebration of Malaysia’s National Day as well as Malaysia Day. It will be the sixth time that Malaysia hosts the biennial games. Kuala Lumpur 2017 (KL2017) is the brand name of the 29th SEA Games and the 9th Asean Para Games.

Jamery is shy, and perhaps a little sensitive of his condition – his right wrist folds back into his hand, and his right foot is convexed. But put the commanding athlete into the water, and he proves why he is a force to be reckoned with.

Jamery didn’t get to where he is by way of sympathy or token interest – he scored gold in the 100m freestyle at the Singapore Asean Para Games in 2015 by sheer grit and determination, recurring and driving themes in his life, it seems.

Jamery Siga at a swimming practice at Kompleks Sukan Paralimpik in Kuala Lumpur.

“I began to take things seriously in 2003, when I represented my state in paralympic games … which I did until 2009, after which I joined MSN (National Sports Council) full-time,” he outlined his ascent.

What fascinated him most about swimming events when he began was how quickly winners and losers were determined. “It takes only a few seconds or minutes to know if you’ve won a medal or not, and I like that,” he said, almost bashfully admitting his simple approach.

It was his older brother (he is one of four siblings, including two sisters) who taught him how to glide across the water. And it was those early lessons that allowed him to ply his trade and do it successfully, too.

“I started from the bottom, and have learnt a lot from my mistakes. In the first two years, there’s not much you can learn about the sport, but now that I’ve done it for nearly 10 years, I have gained a lot more experience.”

Gruelling training sessions have shaped him into a supreme athlete, as there is no slipshod way to the top of a highly-physical sport, in which nearly every muscle in the body has a role to play. His pre-tournament regimen includes a six-day workout, from Monday to Saturday. And the days start early, too, with routines alternating between waterborne work and weight sessions at the gym.

Jamery fancies his chances in the butterfly event, a particular favourite of his. He admits that it’s the most demanding of the swimming disciplines, but his hard work has primed him. “I’m not good at breast stroke … that’s my greatest weakness,” he offered willingly and sheepishly.

He acknowledges though that nothing in life comes easy, and earning medals is as much about physical strength as it is about mental power.

“You just can’t swim fast if you don’t have the mental strength. I know that if I have desire and determination, I can accomplish anything,” asserted the 32-year-old.

Jamery has learnt some of his life lessons from his role model, fellow statesman, swimmer Daniel Bego, likewise a specialist in the butterfly event. Of course, he also looks up to the all-time greatest, American Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian ever.

“I watched Daniel on TV, and saw him win many medals. It was his faith and drive that got him those medals, so, I want to be like that, too,” Jamery said.

At the upcoming Para games, Jamery isn’t merely looking to score gold medals – he is also determined to beat his best time of 39 seconds in the butterfly category. “Sure, I’d like to win the gold, but my priority is to beat my best time.”

He has drawn a faithful following from very close to home and is relentlessly supported by those who matter most to him.

Jamery’s brother taught him how to swim in a river near his house, which is now crocodile-infested.

“All the families in the long house I come from inspire and encourage me. They don’t see any disabilities in me. They also show their support for me on Facebook,” he shared, painting a loving picture of the ironclad bond which exists in his community. And much of this love starts with his village head dad and homemaker mother.

And it’s the love that drives him, as well.

“I want to do this for Malaysia … I want to make the country proud of us athletes.”

The slogan on a Tune Talk ad perfectly depicts what he is all about, the Bahasa Malaysia words translating to: “Different? Perhaps. Out of the ordinary? Definitely!”