Wong Wai-yee’s unique story is an inspiration to all young female footballers.
After making the Hong Kong national team at just 16 years old, Wai-yee was well on her way to achieving her dream of becoming a professional football player. Sadly, her plans were derailed by a devastating injury.
“Around a year and a half ago, I tore my ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] and MCL [medial collateral ligament] at the same time,” explained the 18-year-old former Jockey Club Ti-I College student.
These are two of the most serious injuries an athlete could suffer. And to make it worse, suffering both at the same time would usually mean the end of their sporting career.
“I had surgery [to repair the knee] last July. Since then, I have been seeing a doctor and physiotherapist nearly every day,” said Wai-yee, who can play as an attacking midfielder or striker. “But I am still here. I want to inspire others and let them know that, even if you have a bad injury, you can still make it back on to the field.”
Following the injury, Wai-yee lost her spot on the national team. “I cried for a week after that,” she said. “But I’ve made it a goal to get back on the team.”
She has stayed positive in the face of many doubters, including the Hong Kong Jockey Club and her own parents.
“The Jockey Club told me I was crazy when I told them I wanted to become a professional player,” she said. “My parents didn’t support me playing soccer because they wanted me to become a doctor.”
However, Wai-yee received her family’s blessings when she became the first female footballer from Hong Kong to receive a full athletic scholarship to a US university. Unfortunately, she ran into even more haters when she went to Harris-Stowe State University, in Missouri.
“I was the shortest girl on the team. My teammates thought that because I was short, and Chinese, that I couldn’t play,” she said. They laughed at me and said “you should give up and concentrate on your studies”.
“But after the first practice, everyone was nice to me. I proved that even though I am short and an outsider, that I could do it.”
Her bad luck didn’t end there. A few weeks later, Wai-yee re-injured her knee after a reckless tackle by one of her teammates, and she had to return to Hong Kong.
Wai-yee is now focusing on getting her knee back to full strength while playing for Happy Valley Football Club. She is determined to play for the national team once again and will decide later if she wants to return to the US.
Her ultimate goal, however, is to play professionally for Hong Kong’s Eastern Sports Club alongside her idol, Xu Dei Shuai, who she said inspired her to keep pursuing her dream.
“Xu is like me, he also had a bad knee injury and came back stronger,” said Wai-yee. “He told me to continue chasing my dream while everyone else told me I am crazy, and said I should focus on my studies.
“But I am still young, and I think studying is something you can do anytime in your life. Right now I want to chase my dream – I want to prove to the world and to Hong Kong that women’s soccer can be something big. The salary is not high, I understand that. But I have to try – if I don’t try, then I will feel like I failed.”
Wai-yee is critical of the education system in Hong Kong. “It’s rubbish,” she said. “I think it pushes children too hard. That’s why there are so many suicides in Hong Kong these days.”
As a pre-med student, she still hopes to become a doctor after her football career is over, and regularly attends lectures at Polytechnic University and City University to stay up-to-date with her studies.
Still, her one piece of advice to young Hongkongers is: “Put 120 per cent effort into your dreams, not your studies.”