An autistic girl who rules in the pool

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 June, 2011, 12:00am


After years of waiting, swimmer Leung Shu-hang can finally realise her dream. The 23-year-old is autistic and next year she will compete in the Summer Paralympics in London.

The Paralympics are the world's biggest global sporting event held every four years for disabled athletes.

Both mentally and physically challenged athletes used to be able to compete in the events.

However, in 2004 and 2008 mentally challenged athletes were barred from competing for fear of fraud. At the Sydney Paralympics in 2000, the Spanish basketball team was found to have passed off healthy athletes as mentally challenged.

So in the Athens and Beijing Paralympics only physically challenged athletes could enrol.

As a result, Leung missed out both times. 'I want to join the event. I was not happy when I couldn't compete in the 2004 and 2008 Paralympics,' she said.

But she did not just sit around brooding.

The young woman won the Hong Kong Sports Stars Awards three times: in 2007, 2009 and 2010.

Once afraid to get into the water, Leung became a top swimmer who competed against regular athletes.

'Communicating and interacting with others has been Shu-hang's weak points since she was young,' said her mother, Jenny Leung.

'But swimming has changed her a lot and now she is emotionally more stable and tougher than before.'

Her autism makes it hard for Leung to relate to other people. Yet she has learned to communicate well with others. During an interview with Young Post, she paid close attention to questions and answers.

Next year at the Paralympics in London, mentally challenged athletes will be able to participate again. Leung plans to compete in the 100m breaststroke, the 100m backstroke and the 200m freestyle.

Last year at the International Paralympic Committee's Swimming World Championships, Leung won the 100m breaststroke, booking herself a place in the event at the London Games.

She is now training hard to qualify in the other two events.

Leung started out as a long-distance and individual medley swimmer.

She has since refocused her energies on short-distance events in order to compete in the Paralympics. The young woman is looking forward to the challenges ahead with steely-eyed determination.

'I won't retire any time soon,' she said. 'I want to keep swimming and to compete in the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil, too.'

Besides swimming, Leung also enjoys singing. Next year in London, the young swimming sensation plans to be standing atop the podium and belting out the national anthem.