Body goes from strength to strength

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 September, 2008, 12:00am

The Sports Association for the Physically Disabled was established in 1972 to promote rehabilitation through athleticism. Together with Harry Fang, the 'grandfather of disabled sports' in Hong Kong, people such as Patrick Ng Chak-lin and Silas Chiang Tak-cheung have dedicated their lives to the cause.

'It's my passion for sports that keeps me around,' said Mr Ng, who is this year's chef de mission to the Paralympics in Beijing. 'The dedication of the athletes is unparalleled. I used to work in the association 30 years ago and can't separate my life from what this association means to me. We are all old friends here.'

One of the association's strongest assets is its pool of volunteers, who have served as coaches, therapists and nurses.

Mr Chiang, chef de mission to seven previous Games, is another key member of the association. He sees the Paralympic Games as a way to promote co-operation and persistence. 'I started in 1972 as a full-time programme co-ordinator when the association was set up by Sir Harry,' Mr Chiang said. 'Back then ... the number of disabled athletes could be counted on one hand.

'To disabled athletes who are afraid of going out, sports lift their self-esteem and brings a sense of confidence. Meanwhile, I am proud to see our athletes perform better year by year since 1972 - our first participation in the Paralympic Games. In 2004, we ranked 17th out of 135 participating countries.'

The history of rehabilitation through sport goes back to the 1960s, when hospitals and rehabilitation centres started using wheelchair basketball and archery as part of their medical programmes. The results were promising, improving the minds and bodies of many patients.

With the general public taking notice, Sir Harry organised the first 'Sports Day' for the physically handicapped at the Royal Air Force base next to Kai Tak airport in 1970.

The event coincided with a visit by the New Zealand paraplegic team, returning from the International Stoke Mandeville Games, and thus a link with disabled sportspeople from overseas was established.

Seeing the successful result and the demand, the association was inaugurated as an independent body in 1972 under Sir Harry's leadership.

Nearly 1,400 disabled people are enrolled, 100 of them elite athletes who are training in 14 sports. A big part of the association is to identify athletes who can train at the top level. Sprinter So Wa-wai and boccia player Karen Kwok Hoi-ying were both handpicked on site.