Disability drove sportsman to encourage others to excel
Derek Ko’s training academy teaches leadership, self-confidence and communication skills
Derek Ko Chi-kin is a busy man. His training academy runs a variety of team-building activities to enhance self-confidence, improve communication and encourage leadership skills. An avid sportsman, he practices cycling, canoeing, climbing, caving and mountaineering. He has an impressive list of sporting achievements to his name, and has won medals in several international competitions.
He has scaled peaks in Nepal and Taiwan, canoed to Macau and back, and cycled more than 10,000 kilometres around the United States, Europe and Taiwan. He does regular volunteer work and gives motivational talks.
“I’m going to give a talk at a primary school this afternoon,” Ko tells me when I meet him in Sha Tin. He is giving an example to illustrate his personal philosophy: value and be grateful for all that you are lucky to have. Derek adds: “After the speech, of course, they clap. And then I then I say to them, ‘See, you can clap with two hands! I haven’t clapped with two hands for so many years! Cherish it!’”. Ko smiles and adds cheekily, “but you don’t need two hands to give a thumbs up”.
At the age of 12, Ko lost his right arm to an aggressive kind of gangrene after a serious bone fracture. A sports enthusiast from a young age, Ko fell from a fence trying to retrieve the ball during a soccer game with school friends.
The gangrenous infection was particularly rare, and his doctors were not aware of it until it was too late. I ask Ko if he felt blame or anger. “I felt bad, that’s normal. But not angry.
Anger wouldn’t bring me a new hand,” he says. “Don’t say no before you try”. The motto for Ko’s training academy epitomises his energetic, assertive attitude to life. Be it water-skiing or competitive climbing, Ko has given almost everything a go. And mostly, he finds a way to excel, outwitting the odds.
Much of his rehabilitation treatment after the accident involved hydrotherapy; so Ko was forced to overcome a childhood fear of water. When he was older, he decided he wanted to become a qualified lifesaver.
He practised the exercises at his local swimming pool but when he arrived at the Victoria Park Pool to take the exam, he was shocked to see the height between the water level and the pool’s edge. It was much higher than where he had practised, making it difficult to pull himself up and out of the water.
Ko says he was determined to find a way to pass the lifesaving exam. He decided to use his legs, strong and toned from participating in international high-jump competitions.
He sprung to a height where he could just get his torso over the edge of the pool. He kicked against the side, pushing his abdomen up to the edge. With this critical balance, he was able to scramble out. With toes bruised and blue he passed the exam. “I’m really happy about the result.
Two of the others failed, and I passed. Why was I happy? If everyone else had passed I would have thought they just let me through. But since others failed, I knew this was not the case. I am the first qualified lifesaver with only one arm in Hong Kong”, he says.
Ko also runs motivational talks and activities for people with disabilities. While he strongly advocates for improving accessibility for the disabled, he tells his subjects not to expect the world to change for them. “Sometimes, just getting out the door is an adventure”, he says. Not everything is always as you expect.
The 55-year-old has always lived in Hong Kong. His love of sports takes him around the world, but Ko would never leave permanently. The city’s warm climate, green mountains and ample coastline are a natural playground for Ko. He puts it simply, “I love Hong Kong”.