Guide runner helps blind and deaf athletes enjoy team spirit
Kate Cheung Fung-oi says running can boost confidence of disabled
Flood lights pour bright, hot rays on to the Hammer Hill Sports Ground in Choi Hung. The lush, green pitch is circled by a rust red athletic track. Eight lanes, delineated by freshly painted, white lines, mark the track for more than 100 hot, sweaty bodies running laps on a balmy September evening.
On the sidelines, people sit, stretch, talk technique, and gossip. Some speak, some sign, and some do both. Kate Cheung Fung-oi stands among a group of panting runners dressed in neon orange jerseys. Using a mixture of words and gestures, she is giving feedback to her team of blind and deaf runners.
“I want everybody to achieve their goal, and have a happy life,” she said. “I think disabled people have an inner strength. Through these sports activities they feel happy, their endorphins are released when they achieve their goals. Everyone has a dream they can make come true.” Her admiration for her team of runners is obvious. “Look at me. I’m a short lady, and I can run a marathon!” she said with a laugh.
Cheung trains disabled and guide runners most nights a week. And in her spare time, she travels the world to run off-road races up to 100km long in Japan, Mongolia, Thailand, Korea and France.
“Chamonix [in southeastern France] is a very good place to run. It’s very steep. One race went up five mountains,” she said. “And when I told the [blind and deaf] team about my adventure, they were very happy to learn of it. It’s new to them and they can imagine it”.
For Cheung, running is very much a team sport. “I received a call today about a girl with just one arm who wants to lead a blind runner in the Standard Chartered run. It’s challenging, but I think it’s good to do!” said Cheung.
Cheung began her work with blind and deaf people while at university, when she volunteered on the Adventure Ship, an educational and training boat for young people with disabilities. She was inspired by their bravery and adventurous spirit. “They open their hearts, open their minds and experience nature”, she said.
Sharing skills and experience comes naturally to Cheung, who works as a full-time corporate trainer for a large-scale catering company. In 2006, when her boss asked her to start a running club for the company, she immediately enrolled in the Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association (HKAAA) coach training course.
Not long after she graduated, she had a chance encounter with her HKAAA lecturer in a running shop. She was asked to be the guide runner for a blind woman who wanted to run the Standard Chartered marathon. Interested, Cheung agreed, and the woman, Elsa, later became the first blind woman ever to finish the race. Cheung’s pride is palpable, “She was so happy because she became a role model for her daughter. Even with a disability she could still achieve something huge. It boosted her confidence and now she knows she can do anything, even though she lost her sight. I saw the transformation”, said Cheung.
Back on the track, Kate points to two orange-clad men who are preparing to start their run. They each hold on to a short elastic loop at thigh height between them. “That couple is a deaf man leading a blind. How can they communicate? It’s heart to heart communication”, said Cheung.
Video: Hong Kong guide runner helps blind and deaf athletes enjoy team spirit