May, 09 2014
A Colorful Life: The Downhill Queen's Story

She won a prestigious medal when her marriage hit rock bottom. But like the sport she had trained for and competed since young, this mountain bike queen pedalled back to reclaim her life.

by Ami Afriatni
Wo/Men We Love
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Risa Suseanty settled herself down on her saddle before pedaling along the track in Dane Soung Hill, Saythany Distrit of Laos back in December 2009. She kept reminding herself not to let her tears roll down as she raced for Indonesia in the women’s downhill event at the Southeast Asian Games.
 
“You can cry hard when you’ve raced through the downhill and walked up to the podium,” the 24-year-old promised herself.
 
The result was the fastest record of the day, not only securing the country’s first gold medal at the biennial Games, but also marking the comeback of the country’s mountain bike queen. She shared her best smile to supporters and teammates, as she took off her helmet and unzipped her tracksuit.
 
Sweats rolled down on her face, some stuck in her mascara-coated eyelashes as she was congratulated by many Indonesian sports officials. Among those who greeted her was her soon-to-be ex-husband, Singaporean mountain biker Tan Hong Chun. They hugged as Risa broke in tears.
 
Nobody really knew she was in the middle of the toughest moment in her life, tougher than the extreme sports she had been doing since she was 14. Her marriage with Tan, her husband of four years then, was being tested.
 


“I was hurt. My expectation of marriage was ruined. I asked myself many times what had gone wrong, why marriage brought me down after giving my all. I almost went crazy and thought of committing suicide. It was my biggest disappointment,” said the multiple SEA Games women’s downhill gold medalist.
 
It was her mom who helped her through the situation. She asked Risa to leave Singapore and return home months before the Games when she visited her in Singapore.
 
“She kept reminding me that I was probably treated badly here in Singapore, but lots of people need me back home. So I left.”
 
Despite the depression, Risa continued her preparation for the Games with the rest of the team members. The broken heart masked the physical pain of training.
 
“I kept letting myself drowned in sorrow until I reached that turning point. I think to myself that enough is enough. If my marriage failed, I still have my career that I have been working on since I was little. I put my problem behind, put my energy on training rather than feeling sorry for myself.:
 
The payback time has finally arrived. The gold medal in hands was a sweet revenge for her.
 
“I proved him I was through with all the pain and I came back stronger. I felt so relieved and proud of myself. Then I decided to not go back to my marriage.”

She moved on and later met Hong Kong’s BMX rider Steven Patrick Marie Josee Wong. The Asian Games champion, whom she first knew back in 2010, gave her moral support. After dating for a while, Risa accepted Wong’s marriage proposal. The mixed Belgian-Hong Kong rider has restored Risa’s faith in marriage.
 
“He is there to support me achieving my goals in life, including building my own clothing retail business,” said Risa, who likes to dress fashionably.
 
“We have the same hobby. He is a morning person, while I always wake up late. Whenever I open my eyes, breakfast and coffee are already there. He respects me a lot. He is like a best friend to me. He misses me managing his stuffs whenever he travels overseas to race alone, and I miss him when there’s problems with my laptop,” she laughed.
 
At 33, Risa is seven years older than Steven, but their age difference makes no difference to him.
 
“He always said age is just number. The way people think is not judged by their ages. He just hopes we both can learn from my failure. Communication is the key. I really enjoyed my marriage.”
 
“I believe I had to make a longer route before find, I hope, the right one. He opened my eyes that nobody is the same.”
 
Their experience has included a near-death experience. Risa and Wong were on an ill-fated Lion Air when the plane missed the runway while landing on Ngurah Rai Airport in Bali. The plane plunged into the sea, a few hundred meters from the airport.
 
“I was sleeping when the plane hit a hard surface. Water gushed in fast before Steven and I were finally rescued,” she said.
 
She refused to fly in an airplane for months. When she had to leave for last year’s SEA Games tryout competition in Myanmar, the pilot of Singapore Airlines plane had to delay the flight to convince her everything was okay. She eventually recovered from the trauma, thanks to the support of her husband, family and friends.
 
When people ask how she describes her life, Risa would say, “colorful, full of ups and downs, out of the box”.
 
“Not everyone can tell the world proudly they are one of the survivors of a crashed-plane. And when you can stand out in the crowd, why hide?”
 
About Ami Afriatni
Ami is a sports journalist, had worked at Tempo magazine and currently at the Jakarta Globe daily. She has covered various national and international sports events since 2007, including the 2009 SEA Games when Risa claimed the first place on the podium.