Blind Hong Kong runner becomes first visually impaired person to complete Antarctic challenge

Gary Leung beats the odds and injury to place sixth overall in 100-kilometre South Pole race in bid to raise money for Samaritan Befrienders

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 January, 2017, 6:55pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 January, 2017, 9:49pm

A blind runner from Hong Kong has become the first visually impaired athlete to complete a special 100km race in the South Pole, overcoming an injury he suffered at the 40km mark.

Gary Leung Siu-wai, 49, and running partner Jennifer Cheung Sze-ying, 42, ran the event in a bid to raise funds for the Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong following a wave of student suicides last year.

Running in Antarctica, and not a soul to be seen in any direction

The pair withstood freezing temperatures to take on the epic challenge from January 21 to 22.

The event is part of the World Marathon Challenge 2017, which sees competitors attempt to run a total of 295km in seven marathons across seven continents in seven days.

They flew from Toronto to a heroes’ welcome at Hong Kong International Airport on Monday. They received flowers and cuddly toys while proudly displaying their trophy to waiting photographers.

Leung injured a ligament after 40km but was persuaded to carry on by Cheung, and the duo went on to complete the race, finishing sixth overall.

Their efforts have so far raised about HK$200,000 following sponsorship by major banks.

Speaking to reporters at the airport, Leung said conditions were windy but they avoided heavy snowfall, and it only became particularly tricky to navigate their route after the sunlight faded.

He said the race was difficult, to the point where he had considered withdrawing after suffering the injury.

“The target was not easy but there is always something you have to sacrifice,” he said. “You have to put in the effort to reach your goal. It was not just about the competition, it was about the love and support I got from my family, friends and especially Jennifer.”

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Leung, who suffered a retina defect during childhood and lost his sight in 2009, said he hoped his achievement would demonstrate that “nothing is impossible for disabled or able-bodied people”.

“You can just try to do your best,” he said.

Cheung said some fellow explorers involved in another competition had offered them ginger tea at one of their rest points.

She said she had learned to be supportive of her partner, even through the toughest conditions.

“In those moments, the most important thing is to give courage to Gary,” she said. “It is important to break it up into short goals of 10km, step by step. I told him, ‘together we will get to the finish line’.”

Clarence Tsang, executive director of the Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong, said he hoped the achievement would send a positive message to the local community.

“We think it would be good to encourage the people of Hong Kong with this,” he said. “It shows no matter what challenges they face, they can overcome them. I think Gary particularly is a good role model for the general public. And Jennifer too for helping others to achieve their dreams.

“It is not easy as a visually impaired runner to go to the South Pole and run in those conditions.

“They have been very kind to make use of this chance to raise funds for us.”