Being a successful triathlete often means having to have the strength, stamina and resolve to pull through – even when every fibre of your lungs, heart and muscles are screaming in agony. Leaping from the pool onto a bike, and then finishing off with a run, triathletes must excel in not just one, but three different sports. Yu Shing-him has been part of this notoriously tough sport for three years, and he trains and races with Hong Kong’s regional squad when he’s not studying at Fukien Secondary School.
Triathletes fall into the sport in lots of different ways. For Shing-him, it was through swimming. Of the three triathlon disciplines – swimming, cycling and running, Shing-him says that swimming is his favourite. He looks up to the Olympic superstar swimmer Michael Phelps, and has been in and out of the pool since he was small.
“I used to swim a lot but I realised that I wasn’t getting the results I wanted,” the 17-year-old tells Young Post. “So I decided to try out for the Hong Kong Triathlon Regional Squad.”
Shing-him is now one of Hong Kong’s rising star triathletes, having competed in both of the Asian Championships in the last two years. The championships in 2015, in Taiwan, was only his second time representing Hong Kong overseas, and he hadn’t expected to emerge victorious with a podium result. Getting in was tough: Shing-him had to prove his mettle in the national squad’s training sessions and a selection race.
“I thought I was there to get experience competing against Japan, the strongest team in Asia,” he says.
It was summer in Taipei and the temperature was 30 degrees Celsius. The extreme heat may have phased athletes from cooler climates but Shing-him used it to his advantage.
“The day was so hot,” he says. “I prefer to race in the heat because I tend to perform better and have better results because of my high heat tolerance.”
He ate a bar of dark chocolate beforehand for an energy boost, got his head into the zone, and managed to stay relaxed but focused throughout the race. Shing-him bossed it and ended up placing second. His teammate Kok Yu-hang came first after the two had been leading for most of the race.
Running with training partners is equal parts rivalry and support, and Shing-him is very close to his teammates, who he likens to his family.
“I’ve probably spent more time with them than with my actual family these last few years,” he says, and adds that they have had too many great moments together for him to pick just one to recollect.
In April this year, the squad raced at the 2016 Championships in Hatsukaichi, where the athletes faced, in contrast to Shing-him’s 2015 Asian Championship race, chilly temperatures.
“It was winter and the temperature was very low,” Shing-him told the Hong Kong Sports Institute (HKSI). “My entire body was freezing and it seriously affected my performance. Although my result was bad, it was a valuable learning experience.”
In both 2015 and 2016, Shing-him was honoured for his results in the Championships races at the Sports for Hope Foundation Outstanding Junior Athlete Awards. The HKSI organises the ceremony, which awards cash prizes to 10 promising young sports stars every quarter. And it looks like this year’s won’t be Shing-him’s last honour: he has his eyes set on the Asian title, and after completing the DSE, he’ll have a shot at training full-time and becoming a professional triathlete.
When he’s not pushing the boundaries of his aerobic capabilities during a race, Shing-him can be found listening to music or playing his PS4 with friends. It’s hard, he says, to balance socialising, training and studying in his final years of school, but having one eye on his dreams at all times keeps him focused.
“Representing Hong Kong at the Olympics and competing with the top triathletes in the world is my ultimate goal.”
What song/movie title best describes you when you’re playing your sport?
Sucker For Pain, by Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa and Imagine Dragons, because I hate feeling pain.
You can take the abilities of any animal during one competition. Which do you choose and why?
An eagle because an eagle always knows when it’s the right time to attack.
What’s your favourite thing to eat before a big event?
I love to eat chocolate, especially 75 per cent dark chocolate, before a big race because it gives me a power boost.