Disabled, but not handicapped

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 July, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 July, 1994, 12:00am

THE wet surface on the track at the Hong Kong Sports Institute is playing havoc with Wong Chi-keung's training schedule.

Instead of powering around the track in his racing wheelchair at speeds of up to 30 km/h, Wong will spend another day in the dry comfort of the Institute's weight room.

The rain is more than a nuisance. Now is the time he should be spending on the track for one of his tri-weekly, 21/2-hour sessions.

But training in the rain is no good for Wong as he can't train as hard as he wants to and a crash on the track's slippery surface could easily knock him out of the upcoming Athletic World Championships For the Disabled to be held in Berlin from July 22 to 31.

With 2,500 athletes competing from all over the world, Germany will be Wong's biggest challenge so far. A seven-year-veteran of wheelchair racing, Wong, who will compete in the 100, 200, 400 and 800-metre sprints, said with such a diverse field of competitors, he doesn't know who he will be competing against or how he will fare.

''It's going to be very difficult to win a medal because these are the best of the best disabled athletes in world, guys who have competed in the Paralympics [the Olympics for the disabled],'' said the 26-year-old Aberdeen resident.

The Berlin meet is the start of busy summer for Wong who, when not training, works as a computer data operator in the sports science department at the HKSI.

After Berlin, it's back to Hong Kong for more training to get ready for the FESPIC Games (Far East and South Pacific Games for the disabled) in Beijing where he will be expected to challenge for gold medals after racking up an impressive record of three bronze and one silver medal in the 100, 200, 400, and 800 metres respectively at last year's Games in Kobi, Japan.

Wong, who contracted polio as a child, said he got into wheelchair racing in 1987 after discovering there was a sport that the wheelchair-confined could participate in.

''I never even knew that there was sports for wheelchair people,'' says Wong. ''I tried racing at the Sports Institute and I found out that I really enjoyed it.'' After years of racing, Wong says it wouldn't be possible for him to compete without the financial assistance of the Sports Development Board, the HKSI, the Hong Kong Sports Association for the Physically Disabled and the Hong Kong Wheelchair Association.

Wong said what he could do without was the labels that able-bodied society places on athletes with a disability.

''It really is just a label - I am an athlete first. People see the wheelchair first and it's a convenient way to categorise someone who is different. If you saw me sitting on a couch, you wouldn't know that I was disabled and you would treat me like any other person. But people act different around the handicapped and this is a problem and there's no need for it. Look at the person and not the chair.''