Fencer has wheel to win

Fencer has wheel to win

Alison Yu overcame the loss of her leg to make it to the top of her game and launch a new career


Wheelchair fencer Alison Yu has set her sights on gold at the London Paralympics later this year.
Wheelchair fencer Alison Yu has set her sights on gold at the London Paralympics later this year.
Photo: K.Y. Cheng/SCMP
People in Hong Kong who know anything about wheelchair fencing know Alison Yu Chui-yee. The 28-year-old has achieved success in and out of competition and is always looking for ways to push herself even further.

Yu took up wheelchair fencing in 2000. She represented Hong Kong in the 2004 and 2008 Paralympics, winning a total of eight gold medals and one silver. She has also had success at the World Wheelchair Fencing Championships. But she is not sitting on her laurels. "As an athlete, I treat every match as a new challenge and I don't look back," she says. "Gaining more experience and medals are always my targets."

Yu says the secret of her success is to stay optimistic.

The athlete was diagnosed with bone cancer in her left leg when she was 11. After two years of unsuccessful grafts and chemotherapy, the only option was to have part of her leg removed. But she recalls her stay in Lady Pao Children's Cancer Centre of Prince of Wales Hospital with some pleasure.

"I made friends at the ward and they taught me how to play the 'Big Two' card game," she says. "Of course I was sad after the surgery, but it was not devastating to me." She made fast progress, and within two years, she was walking on her artificial leg without a stick.

Later she attended Chinese University and gained a degree in geography and resource management, followed by a master's degree in sport studies.

Then about five years ago, she became host of the sports radio programme Decathlon, which airs at 7pm on Saturdays on RTHK 1. This was in addition to her 20 hours of weekly training at the Hong Kong Sports Institute in Sha Tin.

"At first, I was invited to talk about my athletic career, then I told the producer of my interest in DJ work," she says. "One year later, when one of the original hosts, former fencer Ho Ka-lai resigned, I was given the chance to try my hand at hosting."

Broadcasting pushed Yu to hone her communication skills and her reactions. "I thought being a DJ would be light work, just chit-chat and it would be easy to fill a one-hour show," she says. "But when I started, I found that you need to adapt to sudden changes and be capable of handling different situations. It was very much like fencing."

Now the Paralympian frequently acts as a master of ceremonies for local sport events.

Over the past decade, Yu's sporting achievements have earned her recognition from several organisations. But the most important, she says, was being named one of Hong Kong's Ten Outstanding Young Persons in 2007 and being awarded a Medal of Honour in 2009.

In 2008, Yu was invited to become an ambassador for the charity Stand Tall, which helps those injured in natural disasters. It was established after the massive Sichuan () earthquake.

"I am still working part-time with the charity, and sometimes I fly to Chengdu () to see the many young people injured in the earthquake," she says. "I want to show them how it is possible to overcome disabilities and live a fruitful life."

She is inspired by the spirit of the Sichuan people. "I can tell they are really tough. I had a longer period to digest the news about losing my leg, but they had to accept the loss of loved ones, plus the loss of limbs, very quickly."

Her next challenge is the upcoming London Paralympics. Once again, she aims to be on the winners' podium in all events. "And the best ending would be getting gold medals for sure," she says.

And as for the future? Right now, she says, she is in her "golden age", and all other decisions will be made after the Paralympics.



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