Life for him is taking one step at a time

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Life for him is taking one step at a time

"If you live diligently, you can overcome any obstacles," says Son Wi-yong, 50, when asked his thoughts upon being accepted to the legal studies program at Seoul National University.

Mr. Son certainly had his share of obstacles in life, including those that others hardly notice. A set of stairs, for example. Mr. Son lost both legs from the knees down to a train accident while in high school. In spite of this handicap, Mr. Son never abandoned his dream of studying at a university. The dream has finally come true, more than 30 years after he dropped out of high school.

During elementary and middle school in Ulsan, Mr. Son's teachers considered him a genius and he was admitted to the prestigious Busan High School in 1969. Because his mother had to work, Mr. Son did not have enough money for lodging in Busan. So his daily commute entailed riding the East Sea Southern Railroad from Ulsan to Busan, a five-hour round trip.

Mornings, he left the house by 4 to catch a 4:50 train from Ulsan Station. On the return trip, he would leave Busan Station around 7:15 p.m. and arrive home as late as 10 at night. Despite this rigorous -- some might call it inhumane -- schedule, Mr. Son never missed a day of class and scored grades in the top tier of his class.

The secret to his success? The teen studied and read throughout the long, cramped train ride. Although his family was mired in poverty, Mr. Son lacked nothing -- until a fateful summer day during his junior year. During a heavy rainstorm, Mr. Son slipped and fell onto the railroad tracks. A train hit him and he had to have both legs amputated.

Mr. Son took a year off from school but then quit altogether. He later received his high school degree by taking a qualifying exam. His troubles began mounting anyway, for he could not earn a living due to his handicap. He turned to tutoring neighborhood kids.

Over time, students began flocking to him thanks to his diligent attitude toward teaching. Between dawn and dusk Mr. Son tutored 100 or so students and in the process carved out a decent living.

But his difficulties weren't over. Due to overwork, Mr. Son's health deteriorated rapidly and he had to spend his savings on medical bills. Finally, with the help of his wife and three daughters, he recovered fully. Ten years ago, he opened a jewelry shop but even there hit a brick wall: The store went bankrupt, and his house was seized.

Although he did not have enough money to put fuel into his specially designed motorbike that he was able to ride with his prosthetics, Mr. Son remained hopeful. He started teaching again and slowly built up his savings.

When his life became more stable, Mr. Son began studying for college at the encouragement of his daughters. After two years of hitting the books, Mr. Son was accepted to Seoul National University's law program as part of a special entrance program for disabled persons. The university is now considering plans to install a special elevator for disabled students and to operate a special van for them.

He recently changed his prosthetics, which he had been wearing for nearly 20 years, to start his college life. As for Mr. Son's post-college plans, he says: "I want to become a lawyer so that I can help people in need."

by Kim Sang-jin
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