Reinventing the wheel

Reinventing the wheel

Losing movement in his legs meant that one swimmer had to switch sports in search of success

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Jake Leung wasn't going to let surgery ruin his dreams.
Jake Leung wasn't going to let surgery ruin his dreams.
Photo: Felix Wong

Not even a serious illness can dampen Jake Leung Siu-lun's passion for sport.

Four years ago, Leung, a strong swimmer, was diagnosed with a blood vessel tumour near his spinal cord, which paralysed the lower part of his body.

Leung underwent surgery while a Form Four student studying for the HKCEE exam at Tuen Mun Catholic Secondary School.

Now in a wheelchair, the 22-year-old has found a new sport to pursue: wheelchair fencing.

"After the surgery, at the beginning of my rehabilitation, I made speedy progress," says Leung. "I initially thought I would be able to return to the pool again to swim.

"But my recovery slowed down and eventually stopped at a point where I only had 60 to 70 per cent function in my right leg and no feeling in my left leg."

The setback did not stop Leung, who spent almost two years being treated in Shatin Hospital after the surgery from planning a comeback. Instead he focused on what he still had; the upper part of his body was unaffected by the surgery.

His physiotherapist encouraged him to start wheelchair fencing and arranged a meeting with Tam Chik-sum, the Hong Kong wheelchair fencer who had suffered from the same illness.

"Tam didn't talk about wheelchair fencing when we met; instead, he asked me to imagine how the change in my body would affect every part of my daily life," says Leung.

"That was useful as I had not thought about how to handle my life when I was discharged from hospital."

Tam later took Leung to the fencing hall at the Hong Kong Sports Institute (HKSI), where he showed him a wheelchair fencing training session in action.

"I didn't know anything about fencing. I knew I didn't like sports involving a ball, so that didn't leave me with many choices, particularly among Paralympic events. So, I picked wheelchair fencing."

During his long period in hospital, Leung travelled to the HKSI frequently to take part in a one-month trial with the national squad, where he began to learn the basics of the sport. He gradually came to love it, and officially joined the team two years ago.

"As I learnt more about the sport, I found it really fit my character. I have a never-give-up spirit and a winning heart, and I think these are crucial elements for wheelchair fencing."

Wheelchair fencing has become a big part of Leung's life. He's had a strong start to his career, winning medals in overseas tournaments.

So far, his biggest achievement is a silver medal in the men's category B individual foil event at last July's under-23 International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation's Wheelchair Fencing World Championships in Warsaw, Poland.

But these extra commitments have meant Leung has had to make sacrifices elsewhere.

"It takes me twice or three times as long to do stuff as before my surgery," says Leung. He adds that even everyday tasks, like taking a five-minute shower, normally take him more than 15 minutes these days.

The journey between his home in Tuen Mun and his training venue in Sha Tin also takes longer as he makes his way by wheelchair.

Leung, who loves mathematics, chose not to take the M2 part of HKDSE mathematics exam, even though he had prepared for this additional section. He was simply too exhausted following months of intensive training.

"I could deal with my academic assignments, but had no extra time to do additional maths. This is one of the things I had to let go.

"But I have no regrets, and I will continue to focus on my training," says Leung, who recently completed his public exams and is looking forward to attending university.

"If I have good results, I want to study radioactive therapy, medical laboratory technology or social work at PolyU," says Leung.

His future looks busy, as he says he "also want[s] to fight for individual awards at the Grand Prix and World Cup events in wheelchair fencing."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Reinventing the wheel

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