Fired by dragon boats

Fired by dragon boats

Joining a sports team transformed a troubled student

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Ha Wing-hong gained a focus in his life thanks to dragon boat racing.
Ha Wing-hong gained a focus in his life thanks to dragon boat racing.
Photo: Edmond So/SCMP

Dragon Boat racing helped to turn a troubled truant into a dedicated team player who has represented Hong Kong's juniors in international competitions.

Ha Wing-hong, 18, a Form Five student at Tin Shui Wai Methodist College, found life dull and lacked focus when he first went to school.

"In Form One, I lacked the motivation to sit still in class for a whole day of lessons," says Wing-hong, who has grown up in a single-parent family. "I preferred to sleep in class and didn't bother handing in any homework."

His behaviour led him to be punished with detention after school, but he skipped detention. "Those punishments meant nothing to me," he says. "I wouldn't follow orders from teachers and left school immediately, even if I was supposed to stay behind for the punishment. I also skipped classes because I found school boring."

Wing-hong spent his time on the streets with young troublemakers and playing games in video arcades. "Looking back, I wasted so much time on the street - for nothing," he says. "I'm so glad I didn't do anything that broke the law during that miserable period."

His poor school record meant he had to repeat Form One again. But he finally changed his ways when he was invited by his former Chinese teacher, Lilian Choi, to join the school's canoeing team. "When she asked if I was interested, I soon said 'Yes'," Wing-hong says.

Until then he had rarely chatted with his mother, but joining the canoeing team meant he needed her help to pay coaching fees.

"This started us talking on a regular basis," Wing-hong says. "After each training session, she'd always ask me how my day had been and about my progress. So we started to have much better communication."

After several months, Choi invited him to join the dragon boat team. "Thanks to Miss Choi, my time was fully occupied with school and training," Wing-hong says. "As time went on, I got better on the water and became determined to improve my skills.

"After being on the team, I've learned to be a better person. I've become a teenager with proper manners and attitude in the team and at school."

Wing-hong says that, being a team sport, dragon boat racing suits him better than canoeing, which is an event for individuals.

"I have had weak moments when I've wanted to give up sports, when things were difficult," he says. "Quitting or skipping canoe training would have been easy because it's an individual sport. But with dragon boating, the faith and spirit of the whole team pulled me back - even if I thought that I might want to leave."

He was made captain of his school dragon boat team in 2010 and found "it was not as tough as expected because my teammates are all my good friends".

The team did so well that they often beat adult teams in local competitions. Following his inspired leadership and performances, Wing-hong was picked by the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Association to join Hong Kong's junior squad at the World Dragon Boat Championships in the United States last year.

This summer, Wing-hong and some of his schoolmates started training with Hong Kong's senior squad. However, the travelling and late finish to weeknight sessions in Sha Tin proved too much for the students and they've stopped training.

"Although I'm not training with the senior squad, I'm still continuing my dragon boat racing dream with my peers," Wing-hong says.

"But my biggest wish now is to pass on my love of the sport to younger schoolmates and inspire the next generation."

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