Rolling through life with no regrets
24 Aug 2021
While it may sound like a cliché, it is often said that "one's attitude determines one's altitude". For alumna Ho Yuen-kei (China Studies), who is disabled and dependent on a wheelchair, a positive and optimistic attitude towards life helps her see beyond the horizon and go the distance.
Yuen-kei was born with spinal muscular atrophy. The condition makes walking difficult, and she requires assistance when performing simple movements, such as picking up objects on the ground. She is also more vulnerable than the average person due to the condition, and her poor heart and lung function, as well as a higher susceptibility to infection, mean that she has to make regular visits to the hospital. But while Yuen-kei once questioned her purpose in life, the love of her family and friends has given her the courage and strength to overcome these barriers.
In her early years as a primary and secondary student, Yuen-kei attended special schools and she never thought about doing sport. When she got into junior high school, however, she began to play boccia because she did not want to leave the "Sport" column blank in her Student Learning Profile. The game of boccia is simple: one throws red and blue balls towards a white ball, and the closest one to the target wins. "At first, I felt that boccia was a slow and boring game," says Yuen-kei. "But when I grew older, I came to realise that boccia is not simply physical exercise but also a sport that requires strategic thinking in order to prevent opponents from scoring. I gradually got a greater sense of satisfaction from it."
Other than satisfaction, Yuen-kei has also earned several honours as a boccia player. In 2008, she impressed her coach and was inducted into the Hong Kong team. In 2009, she represented Hong Kong for the first time in the Asian Youth Paralympic Games. Having won two gold medals in the Games, she decided to aim higher, and she targeted a place at the Paralympics.
However, the road to the Paralympics was not particularly smooth for Yuen-kei. Just when boccia had become an indispensable part of her life, she found that the muscle strength in her hands had decreased, which considerably undermined her performance. At that point in time, she thought about quitting boccia to focus on her studies instead.
In 2011, Yuen-kei was reunited with her coach, whose words encouraged her to return to the sport. "My coach asked me why I fell in love with boccia in the first place, and as I reminded myself of my original intent, it motivated me to go back to boccia practice," Yuen-kei recalls.
Following her coach's suggestion, Yuen-kei moved from the BC4 class of boccia, where players propel the ball by hand, to the BC3 class where players are allowed to use a ramp and a pointer, with the help of an assistant to adjust the ramp’s angle. "In a BC3 class game, you need to pay more attention to reading your opponent's play and analysing the game, which makes it more difficult but also more satisfying."
After switching to BC3, Yuen-kei's efforts were not in vain and she went on to win a number of international competitions. In 2016, she achieved her dream of taking part in the Paralympics, and she was the first Hong Kong athlete to compete in the BC3 class of the boccia event, and she managed to reach the quarterfinals. This experience made her understand that, as long as she is willing to try, what she gains from the process is more significant than the outcome of the game. Whenever she encounters obstacles, she reminds herself to never give up, and her motto is "As long as you have the abilities, use them and do not limit yourself". With her perseverance, optimism and positivity, she was selected by the Regeneration Society as one of its Regeneration Warriors 2015-2016, and she is always happy to deliver life lessons and share her own story to inspire others.
Yuen-kei is currently ranked second in the individual world rankings. During the upcoming Tokyo Paralympic Games, which opens on 24 August, she will compete in the individual and pair events in the BC3 class of boccia, and she is now actively preparing for the competition. "There is pressure for sure, but with the support of my family and Hong Kong people, I am confident that I will get to the semi-finals and even win a medal!"