Fate a perfect foil for ambition
When he was 13, Fung Ying-ki was struck down by a virus which left him less than 50 per cent use of his legs. Seven years on, Fung is Hong Kong's brightest medal hope at the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney in October.
'Fate acts in strange ways,' he explains. 'I doubt very much if I would ever have taken up sport if I was an able-bodied person. I certainly know I wouldn't have been a fencer.' Watching him in his wheelchair as he goes through a routine six-hour training session at the Sports Institute in Sha Tin ahead of the biggest tournament of his life, it is easy to feel sorry for a youngster who was cut down in the full flow of life.
But Fung does not feel sorry for himself. Pragmatic as ever - a trait nurtured by the fact that he is a follower of Lao Tzu, who lived 2,500 years ago and founded Taoism - Fung does not dwell on the past or the cruel stroke of fate which dealt him a body blow.
He has no qualms about speaking openly of the incident which left him largely wheelchair-bound, although he has additional mobility with the aid of a walking stick.
'It began when I was 13,' he said. 'I was out walking one day with a friend in Pokfulam when I just fell down. I broke my left arm and had to be hospitalised for two months.' He left hospital but, soon after his discharge, started getting shooting pains down his spine.
'It was very painful, going down my back,' he added. 'I went back and the doctors told me that I had contracted a virus. I found I couldn't use my legs the way I had before. The doctors said there was no hope of recovering as the virus had got inside my spinal cord.' The original injury to his left arm had also resulted in a bad gash, which became infected. It is believed the virus which led to the loss of full use of his legs had entered his body from here.
'Today I have only half the use of my legs,' he explained. 'But I don't worry about it. I only think that if this had not happened, if I hadn't fallen, I might not be where I am now, about to represent Hong Kong at the Paralympics.' Fung, 20, will take part in the foil and sabre events, both individual and team, and is regarded as the SAR's best prospect of winning gold in Sydney. He is going all out to emulate his illustrious predecessor Ben Cheung, who won four gold medals at the foil and epee events at the Atlanta Paralympics four years ago.
'It is hard to imagine what I might have been if I had had a normal life,' he continued. 'Most probably I would be just another ordinary student cramming for his exams. I have no regrets at all about what happened to me.' Two years after his brush with fate, Fung went to a function organised by the Hong Kong Sports Association for the Physically Disabled and took part in a table tennis match. 'I lost my match to a fencer who asked me why I didn't take up fencing,' he said.
'I decided I would take up his advice so that I could avenge my loss at table tennis.' So in 1995 the 15-year-old Fung picked up his first foil. It was soon noticed that he was a natural. Supple wrists and quick reflexes propelled Fung into the limelight. Today he is one of a band of 22 disabled athletes who are on Sports Development Board scholarships and receives elite treatment at the Sports Institute.
'I first represented Hong Kong in 1997 at an international tournament in Italy where I finished second in both the individual foil and sabre events,' he said.
Since then he has come on by leaps and bounds. At the 1998 World Wheelchair Fencing Championships, Fung finished first in the individual and team foil events. A year later, he defeated Cheung, Hong Kong's finest wheelchair fencer, for the first time.
Soon after, he took top spot at the World Cup at both foil and sabre. His growing reputation was crowned earlier this year when he was named one of Hong Kong's six Sports Stars of the Year for 1999.
The cut and thrust of these past five years has left Fung on top of the disabled fencing pyramid in Hong Kong. Local officials are hoping that he will be the one to carry on Hong Kong's proud record of doing well at the Disabled Games.
'The pressure is on me,' he admitted. 'There is no doubt there are a lot of expectations from everyone for me to repeat Ben Cheung's feat four years ago. I will try my best.' Fung is moving into overdrive in the next few months as he prepares to peak for Sydney. Weight training at the gym coupled with hours of skill work is honing his edge.
'I will be going to one overseas competition in Hungary this month and then after that I will attend a training camp in Nanjing, China, where I will train with the able-bodied Chinese national squad who will sit in wheelchairs and help us out,' he said.
He says his strongest point is an ability to shut out the outside world and just concentrate on the task at hand. 'When I sit in the wheelchair, calm envelops me,' he explained.
'Perhaps it is part of my Taoist upbringing. I'm strong mentally and this helps me in my bouts.' While fencing takes up a major portion of his time, Fung has not forgotten a career outside sports. The Sha Tin College schoolboy hopes that one day he can join one of the disciplinary services. 'My parents are supportive of what I do,' he said. 'But I know that they would prefer if I studied more and got less involved in fencing.' But Fung's heart is set on continuing his winning ways with fencing. 'I get all the support I need from the SDB,' he added.
'The programme here is very good and we get good coaches from China. I'm doing something which I like.' Will the streets of Sydney be paved with gold for Fung? Hong Kong certainly hopes so, as the boy who found fencing on the streets of the SAR goes for Paralympic gold.
'Supple wrists and quick reflexes have propelled Fung into the limelight'