Story of SEA Games grit: Bronze-medal waterskier Kalya Kee competed against doc's orders

A cheerful Kalya Kee after getting her wound stitched up.

She may have clinched the bronze medal for both the Slalom waterskiing and overall skiing categories at the recent SEA games last month, but what many didn’t know is that Kalya Kee, 19, suffered from a waterski accident just ten days leading up to her stellar performance.

During training for her Slalom waterskiing event – in fact, just 10 days before her competition – Kee suffered a deep 4.5cm cut on her forehead which required triple layer stitching – 14 stitches on the top layer, and several more on the two layers of skin below.

“I don’t really remember what happened, I was probably in the wrong position, and just lost control of the board as it hit me,” she told Yahoo Singapore in an interview this week, adding that she was unaware of how bad the cut was at first.

Initially, Kee thought it was a nosebleed when she saw blood dripping from her face but soon realised the severity of it when her waterski teammates began crowding around her.

“When I got out of the water, my friends started to crowd around me and tried to help. I didn’t even know how bad it was until later," she recalled.

She was immediately brought to the Sports Council to have it checked, before going to the Singapore General Hospital to get the three-layer-deep wound stitched up.

Kalya gets her wound stitched up.
Kalya gets her wound stitched up.

Her mother, May Lwin Kee, said she was very worried about her daughter’s condition when she found out.

“It was a pretty stressful time for us, with the competition coming up. Getting an injury just before a big event is not like a regular day where you can just take as much time as you need to rest," Mrs Kee said.

It didn’t help that she later came down with a fever for two days, and was still sick in bed during the SEA games opening ceremony, a few days before her event was scheduled.

Kee said she didn’t tell anyone of her injury, and only her immediate family and teammates knew.

“I didn’t want people to be telling me what to do or what not to do, so I just kept quiet about it,” she said.

Fortunately for her, her fever subsided and she was back in training just five days after the injury with a plaster over her forehead.

Although Kee never really considered quitting an option, her mother’s opinion differed.

“I was just saying we’ll wait and see if she can do it, because you know, it’s a mum thing; I was worried about the long-term effects, like what if the scarring doesn’t go away,” said Mrs Kee.

Kee added, “The doctor advised not to go out in the sun and to not get it wet for a month, and I was actually quite scared it may get infected.”

She was also advised against going for any more training sessions, but Kee said there was “no way” she wouldn’t train.

“It was pretty scary going back into the water for the first time,” she said, but she did so anyway, against doctor's orders. And her bravery and dedication to the sport resulted in two more bronze medals for Singapore.

Her dad, Geoffrey Kee, who was in Barcelona at that time, found out only a day after the accident.

Coming from a family of national waterskiiers, this was not the first time a member of the Kee family has got an injury before a big event.

Mr Kee said, “I tore my ligament on my right foot before the 2011 SEA games, and arrived in crutches to compete. But it’s a different feeling when it’s your daughter who’s injured.”

Although her parents were clearly very concerned for Kee at that time, they were given peace of mind with the help of the medical team from Sports Medical Centre, Singapore Sports Institute and Singapore General Hospital.

“They really stepped up and took care of her,” Mrs Kee said, saying that the team took extra care of Kee’s wound by changing the dressing each time she got out of the water to ensure there was no infection.

Kee said, “It’s not every day that you get to participate in the SEA games hosted in Singapore, so this was a rare opportunity that couldn’t be missed.”

Currently a student at Yale-NUS college, Kee participates in one competition every four or five months, but says she will now put waterskiing in the back seat for a while, as she focuses on her studies in the next few months.

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