Rock climbing has been a stepping stone for Ricky Kwok Chung-hang in more ways than one. Thanks to the sport, he learned that success takes hard work and patience. Rock climbing even led the shy 18-year-old to musical theatre, and he now aspires to be a radio DJ.
Ricky first started rock climbing in Form One. His school, CCC Tam Lee Lai Fun Memorial Secondary School in Tuen Mun, had a strong team that had won several local competitions.
'I was ambitious and hoped to win some prizes for my school,' says Ricky, currently in Form Six. 'But I didn't learn the skills as fast as other climbers on the team.'
As he watched his teammates win medals in competitions, Ricky started to lose confidence in himself.
'At that age, I wanted to take the quickest path to success, or even achieve instant glory. I didn't have the patience to put in the work,' he says.
'At the same time, I felt pressure to do well because the team is known as one of the best climbing teams in Hong Kong. I started to think about how people would see me. Would they think I was useless?'
Worried, Ricky quit the team at the start of Form Two.
He rejoined months later, after realising he missed his teammates.
'My coach Lai Chi-wai gave me an old climbing hold as a gift when I started training again. He told me not to give up again and train harder.'
A hold is an artificial rock that is attached to climbing walls; climbers step on it or grab it as they move up.
'I turned the hold into a key chain. I take it with me wherever I go now. It helps me remember my coach's words,' says Ricky.
His efforts finally paid off the next year. He won many awards in local youth competitions and was selected to join the Hong Kong Youth Rock Climbing Team to represent the city in international events.
Ricky's biggest achievement so far is winning the bun-scrambling competition in Cheung Chau. In the event, climbers must scale a 14-metre-tall tower and collect buns. He placed first in the youth category three years in a row: 2009, 2010 and last year. (He won't enter this month's competition because he is studying for the HKDSE exam.)
His success and confidence as a climber soon spread to other areas of his life.
'I didn't worry too much about what others were saying. I realised that I should do what I want and follow my own path,' he says.
In Form Four, he did just that. He decided to get out of his comfort zone and go into theatre.
'I fell in love with drama immediately. It was totally different from sports, but it didn't matter. I like to act and study the characters of the person I play on stage,' says Ricky.
After performing in several school plays, Ricky joined the Hong Kong Children's Musical Theatre. He made his debut in August at Sha Tin Town Hall.
'The musical consisted of five stories with songs in between each one. My character was a film director, and I had to sing a famous song, Falling Slowly, before my scene,' Ricky says. 'That was my first time singing in front of a big crowd, and I had to act at the same time. But I wasn't nervous, and I enjoyed it a lot.'
Ricky says rock climbing and acting both take confidence, but there is one key difference. When he climbs, the cheering audience helps motivate him.
But when he acts, 'I am totally devoted to my role. I don't get distracted when I am in a play or musical. Sometimes directors are amazed how focused I can be. It is like I become the person in the play, and the people sitting in front of me are not important at all'.
Stage experience has also helped Ricky improve his communication skills. 'I can express my views clearly now. Sometimes I even help my friends solve their problems,' he says.
Ricky hopes to join the entertainment industry after he graduates and scale heights of a new kind.
'I would like to become a radio DJ one day. I always listen to Metro Radio, and I like their style. I hope to join the station and learn how to use my skills to help my audience,' says Ricky. 'Of course, I will not forget about rock climbing, and I will continue to set new goals for myself.'