Freddie's my inspiration

Freddie's my inspiration

In a moving essay that won the top prize at the Junior Writers Award, Yeung Lok-chi tells how his late cousin's heroic battle against cancer continues to motivate him.

The question - "What is my role in society?" - immediately brings my cousin, Freddie Ng Ting-fat, to mind. At 22 years old, he lost his battle against sarcoma in December 2013, just a few months after graduating from the University of Hong Kong.

He won three prestigious awards, including the Jacobson Prize in Pharmaceutical Science. Because he was able to accomplish such feats despite fighting cancer, Freddie's heroic story headlined Apple Daily. At the time, he seemed invincible to me. I was certain he'd live a long, prosperous life as a famous pharmacist.

Then, just a month later, Freddie's bright future seemed like just a dream as his cancer severely worsened. When I visited him in hospital, he lay there with numerous ulcers in his mouth and tubes coming out of his body to help him survive. Seeing him like that, I imagined myself in his shoes and a terrifying feeling struck me. What if I were him? What could I claim to have accomplished? Frustrated, exhausted and bewildered that Freddie's rare potential could be cut short, I resolved to do the best I could. Freddie was fearless in his pursuit of living his life to the fullest and I told myself that I would try to live that way, too.

The thought of him passing away was lodged deep in my mind when the annual "Week Without Walls" came around. "Week Without Walls" is a wonderful opportunity to travel to different countries in Asia to serve others who are less fortunate. There were numerous options that I could have chosen: Malaysia, Thailand, mainland China, or Hong Kong. I selected Indonesia because helping and teaching others was something I thought Freddie would choose to do.

During the trip, we travelled to a village, where countless children eagerly awaited us. As I got to know the children, I became particularly close to a very thin six-year-old named Jarfan, who followed me everywhere I went. After a couple of days, I focused on Jarfan more than the other children. I wanted to make an impact on his life. I wanted to feel a little of what Freddie felt all the time - the joy of finding meaning in life through service. And to my surprise, it worked. Jarfan's joy made me happy.

Another instance in which Freddie's memory influenced my perspective was in the semi-finals of the Hong Kong international schools soccer play-offs. We were trailing 2-0 at half-time. During the huddle, it was clear from my frustrated teammates' silence that they were thinking about quitting. Then, all of a sudden, I imagined what Freddie might do.

The answer was simple. He'd lead his team out of this depressed mood. He would not wallow and give up an entire half. So I got to my feet and did what Freddie would do. I shouted to my teammates: "It's not over yet, we can still win this. Let's not give up! On three, Warriors! One, two, three, Warriors!"

We kept our heads up as the second half began and immediately pulled a goal back. Then a few minutes later, we equalised. We were ecstatic! As full-time approached, I decided just to attack and burst forward from midfield every time I got the ball. Finally, in the closing minutes, I saw an open player, and passed the ball to him. He brilliantly smashed the winner from close range, and the result was a 3-2 victory for us.

It was the first time I had ever experienced a win after having fallen so far behind in the first-half. It was a valuable lesson for me, a lesson I'm sure Freddie knew well: it's never over until it is, so never quit. He lived his final months this way. He knew that despite the painful treatment, the smallest thing could change the game and the result. In the end for him, the game was over, but because of his perseverance, he accomplished what he set out to do - to graduate from one of the best universities in the world with the highest accolade.

My achievements are not yet as great as Freddie's.

Certainly, I often wonder if I'll ever live up to his brief but exceptional existence, but even if I never reach his heights, the memory of his achievements will continue to influence the decisions I make in incredibly positive ways. Anytime I'm confused about the right course of action, I simply ask myself: What would Freddie do? And the answer magically reveals itself.

So to answer the question, what is my role in society? It's to live as Freddie would: to find meaning in my own life, and to serve others through perseverance and leadership, in a way that Freddie would be proud of.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Freddie's my inspiration


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