Ex-Mr Asia champ fights on despite being cancer-stricken

Wee (centre) with Saloman (right) and Fatimah at the couple’s residence in Petra Jaya.​

KUCHING, Dec 30: Former Mr Asia bodybuilding champion Saloman Esmanto continues to fight on, despite having lost his eyesight and hearing due to the side effects of chemotherapy to treat his colon cancer.

The 74-year-old Kuching native was all smiles when he and his wife Fatimah Jalil received a visit by Kuching North City Commission (DBKU) member Dato Wee Hong Seng last Wednesday at their home at Jalan Astana, Petra Jaya here.

“Thank you for coming. I’m really sorry, sir – I cannot see or hear you. Forgive me if I address you wrongly,” Saloman told Wee.

The former bodybuilder was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2014 after a visit to Sarawak General Hospital to seek treatment for asthma. Chemotherapy was then prescribed, requiring him to undergo the treatment once every two weeks.

“The continuing treatment resulted in loss of sight and hearing, on top of making him weaker than he was ever before. He decided early this year that there would be no more chemotherapy for him.

“However, he still goes to the hospital for follow-ups once a month,” Fatimah told Wee, who is also Sarawak Bodybuilding Association (SBBA) president.

Wee expressed his sadness in seeing Saloman’s condition.

“This is a man who has paved the way for many Sarawakian bodybuilders; one who has worked hard for his family and also for the sport.

“Some of today’s young bodybuilders may not know who he is, but for those from the old school, he is truly a legend alongside Bujang Taha,” said Wee, who later handed over to Saloman some personal donations and also those from SBBA.

“I assured him and his family that I would do my best to help. I also appeal to other sports associations to never forget their former athletes. They can help through the provision of assistance – both from the bodies themselves and also through collaborations with the relevant authorities, corporate sector or NGOs (non-governmental organisations).”

According to Wee, the provision of aid to former athletes by sports associations is in line with the call made by Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah.

At the opening of the Mr Sarawak 2017 bodybuilding championships in Miri on April 30, Abdul Karim called upon all sports associations in the state to keep and update a databank on former athletes of their respective sports, as well as to identify those in dire need of help.

“It is only right for sports bodies like the SBBA to heed this call. We are open to requests for help. Looking ahead, we plan to visit two veteran members of Sarawak bodybuilding fraternity – one in Kuching and another in Lundu – in early 2018,” said Wee.

Saloman, who was born Suratinan Tamin, entered bodybuilding in the early 1960s while still a student of St Thomas Secondary School. He emerged the overall champion in his competitive debut at Mr Hercules 1963 in Kuching. It was also where he first used his stage name ‘Saloman Esmanto’.

He became a Prisons Department personnel on Sept 1, 1964, where he served until his retirement as sub-inspector on Aug 1, 1998.

His trophy cabinet is decked with tokens of victorious achievements including those obtained in Mr Malaysia in 1971 and 1973, and Mr Asean 1979 in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Saloman’s crowning glory, however, was being named overall champion at Mr Asia 1969 in Colombo, Sri Lanka – the first Sarawakian to achieve such a feat.

In 1971, he became the first ‘Sportsman of the Year’ during the inaugural Sarawak State Sports Council (MSNS) Sports Awards.

Saloman is also the recipient of several state and federal awards – namely Ahli Bintang Negeri Sarawak (ABS) in 1972, Pingat Pangkuan Negara (PPN) in 1973, Pingat Perkhidmatan Setia (PPS) in 1987, and Ahli Mangku Negara (AMN) in 2000.

The other two Sarawakians who had been Mr Asia champions were Bujang, who brought home the title in 1980 and 1981, and Liaw Teck Leong, who won in 2000.

Bujang passed away on October 12, 2014 at age 77, while Liaw, 51, is now residing in Kuala Lumpur. — DayakDaily