Wong Yue-ching would practise table tennis with a paddle weighted with iron – making it at least three times as heavy as a standard bat – to build up strength and help her defy the odds stacked against her.
The 15-year-old, who is having a smashing time in the world of ping pong, has been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic connective tissue disorder which could cause loose joints and skin to bruise easily.
According to Genetics Home Reference, a consumer health website from the US National Library of Medicine, the condition affects at least one in 5,000 people worldwide.
“I am affected by disabilities, so I didn’t try many sports,” said the teenager, who has limited use of her right hand and a spine that curves to the side.
But she said she “inadvertently” fell in love with table tennis after she started playing the game with her schoolmates about three years ago.
The Form Two student said she enjoyed the exciting experience as a ping pong player fighting for every point.
Once she had chosen her sport, the teenager threw herself into the training and never let her physical condition hold her back.
The young athlete practised six days a week and tried different methods to increase her body strength, including using a 360g paddle that did not have a rubber surface.
As her skills improved, she became an active participant in local and international competitions.
She won a gold medal in the women’s team table tennis and silver in the women’s singles in the Dubai 2017 Asian Youth Para Games, a multi-sport event for Asian athletes with disabilities held in December of that year.
The teenager said she wanted to inspire more people with disabilities to follow their dreams.
Her achievements have earned her a nomination for a Spirit of Hong Kong Award.
The annual awards, co-organised by the South China Morning Post and property developer Sino Group, honour remarkable people whose work may not come to public notice.
Wong was recommended by the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union for this year’s Spirit of Youth Award, which recognises young people who show courage and commitment to the community.
The athlete studied at a school for students with special needs before transferring to the United Christian College in Kowloon East, a mainstream secondary school.
Apart from going to school, she must regularly see her paediatrician and orthopaedist at different hospitals.
“I train four to five days a week now and I often need to stay up late to finish my homework,” the student said. “I am also unable to spend time with my classmates after school.”
Yet the teenager said she had never thought of giving up training, adding that as she grows older she wants to do something that could help people.
“I may get a teaching job at a school for students with special needs and share my stories, in the hope of inspiring these pupils,” she said.