Ceres High athlete overcomes loss of parents and part of leg

CERES -- No one pays attention to Brenda Teng as she walks into the discus ring at Ceres High School and uncorks a pretty toss of 80 feet.

She jogs out to retrieve the disc, bringing it back for another fling. She's part of a procession of throwers, each focused on their technique as they take turns practicing.

"The first time I saw Brenda in the ring, she was a sophomore and winning the Valley Oak League junior varsity title," said Brandon Moring, an assistant coach who focuses on the discus and shot. "I could see she wasn't a big girl, but she had good form. I didn't think much more than that, though. It was later that someone told me her story."

Moring, like most folks who see the 5-foot-4 Teng toss the discus or shot, was stunned by the tale: Teng had lost the lower third of her right leg after a horrific auto crash in 2003 near Pomona. It killed her parents, Seang Kim Teng and Tong Vann, and injured her younger sister and grandmother.

Teng's injuries included a crushed right ankle and a gash through her left calf that left large scars, and doctors at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles decided three weeks later to amputate the right leg to attempt to prevent infection.

"I was in intensive care and kept fighting fevers," said Teng, who spent nearly two months in the hospital. "The doctors realized my ankle was becoming infected and worried it might move up. There wasn't much choice."

Doctors made their cut halfway between the knee and ankle, after explaining the significance of saving the knee.

"Because it's such a major joint, it's much more difficult to get accustomed to a prosthetic if it involves the knee," Teng said. "Because of where they cut, I can slip into a prosthetic leg and function well."

Well enough to spin around the ring, impressing rivals and teammates with her tosses. She doesn't limp when she walks or throws, and there's not a hint of bitterness when she discusses the accident.

"Her drive is pretty remarkable," said teammate Manuel Garcia, another thrower. "It isn't just that Brenda comes out every day and throws, it's that she's become good at it."

When they were freshmen, Teng told Garcia she was going to win a league title. Garcia, a friend since the seventh grade, provided encouragement but sprinkled in reality.

"She's always ready for a challenge, but did I think she would win league?" Garcia said. "I thought if anyone was capable, it would be Brenda."

Moring, an assistant coach at East Union in Manteca when he first saw Teng, is in his second season at Ceres. Teng, now a senior, is the No. 3 discus thrower at Ceres. Moring expects as much from her as his other athletes, although he says she often draws from a different source of strength.

"A lot of it comes from right here," said Moring, pointing to his heart. "Your right leg is crucial in the discus and shot because it's where your power comes from. There's a lot of pressure being put on it."

Teng can't throw the discus with total abandon, she says, but she comes pretty close.

"I try not to think about the prosthetic when I'm in the circle because that's my opportunity to compete," Teng said. "I don't want people thinking about my leg if I'm competing against them. I want them to think I'm like anyone else."

She was raised a tomboy in Ceres, competing with neighborhood kids in everything from soccer to hide-and-seek.

"I always loved playing outside, even if I was just out running," said Teng, who underwent months of rehab before getting comfortable with her first prosthetic. "After they removed my leg, I wasn't ready to give all of that up. I wasn't sure what I would do. I knew I wouldn't sit around."

Track was the answer, but Teng didn't realize it until she saw teammates throwing the discus and shot in her first day of practice at Ceres.

"I thought track was just running," she said. "I knew that wasn't possible. Throwing, though, I could do that."

Teng said support from her grandparents and other relatives -- she and her freshman sister, Janelle, live with their aunt and uncle, Seath Teng-Ouk and Pros Charlie Ouk -- was key to her confidence.

"They never talk about how my leg might limit me," said Teng, who has a 3.67 grade point average and plans to study biological science and prosthetics in college. "They don't want excuses. I love that about them.

"After learning my parents died, Seath and Charlie were right beside me when I needed them. The pain of knowing my parents were gone, I can't describe it, but I knew it hurt Seath and Charlie, too. We became very close, and now I think of them as my parents."

Moring notes that Teng is often just "one of the kids." She's in student government and academic clubs, is never too far from her phone and can text at a sprinter's speed.

She's also an assistant for history teacher John Aiello, who says, "Brenda is a great kid. She ... helps students when possible. She always has a positive attitude."

Teng is in Advanced Placement psychology, U.S. history and English, having taken AP physics as a junior. AP is a step above the regular curriculum, and often counts for college credit. She plans to attend Modesto Junior College, then transfer in two years to California State University, Dominguez Hills.

"I'm interested in prosthetics because I think I can have a big impact on people," she said. "It can be difficult to explain a situation to someone who has a leg, but the people I would be dealing with, I will be able to relate with them."

Teng has no trouble relating with anyone, say those who know her.

"Brenda can be counted on for keen insight and gentle humor in equal parts," said Laurie Frazier, who has Teng in her psychology class and says most of the kids don't know about the injury. "Any small handicap she has is irrelevant in my classroom -- most are totally unaware."

Teng once surprised her junior high classmates by arriving without the prosthetic.

"I was on crutches and everyone was like, 'Wow, what happened to you?' " said Teng, who occasionally goes without the prosthetic if it becomes uncomfortable.

"I change legs as I grow, and I also use them up faster because I'm throwing," she said. "I'd like to get a newer one, they have springs to make it easier to run, but the insurance company will have to make the decision."

Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at or 578-2300.