A group of youngsters are overcoming their disabilities and gearing up for their first race at the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon next month. Seven students from the Red Cross Princess Alexandra School in Lam Tin plan to make a strong showing in the three-kilometre wheelchair race.
Tony Yiu Man-tung, Walter Ma Wai-kit, Ken Leung Ka-fai, Jeffrey Yau Tak-hing, Vicky Wong Sze-ting, Patrick Wong Pak-hei and Fiona Fung have already demonstrated their athletic talents.
To qualify for the main event on February 5, they had to complete 3km on a flat surface in 30 minutes, and race up a 120m ramp in three minutes. Only 30 people in the trials would make the cut.
Led by teachers Joe Chau Chun-yan and Dorothy Chan, the students faced the challenge head-on. On the day of the trials in December, they arrived at the Shing Mun Valley Sports Ground in Tsuen Wan a little nervous.
'I was worried that I couldn't make it. I think I am quite heavy, which means I have to use more energy to move my wheelchair,' said Tony, a Form Three student.
The students were split into three groups for the trials. When they were not competing, they were in the stands cheering their classmates on. They watched as some adults quit in the middle of the race.
Yet with the support of their friends, none of the seven students withdrew. What's more, all of them made it through the trials.
The school is taking seven of the 30 available spots and will account for the biggest single group in the 3km wheelchair race. The students see that as quite a victory.
'Now our target is to complete the race next Sunday,' said Walter, a Form Five student.
Jeffrey, from Form Four, added: 'The first part of the 3km is easy, but it's the middle that's hard.
'If we can get through the tough part, we can finish the 3km easily. It should become easier, the more we practise.'
Jeffrey also stressed the need for practice. 'We have a steep slope outside our school, which I use to practise on. At the beginning, I needed to stop four times,' he said.
'Practising on the long steep road has helped our team improve.'
Another of the students' secret weapons is their 'technical team'.
Physiotherapists Louie Leung Kim-wai and Billy Ho Chi-hung have been fine-tuning the students' wheelchairs for months. They make sure the devices are comfortable and are properly equipped.
'The metal handles on the wheels can get very hot during a race. We have to choose the right gloves for the athletes - not too thick but not too thin,' Leung said.
'We've tested lots of gloves over the last months to pick the best.'
They also added slip-resistant plastic to the handles so the students can grab the wheels firmly.
The technical support has boosted the students' spirits, noted Ken, a Form Four student. 'We have a team fixing our wheelchairs,' he said. 'It feels like we are in an international car race with a big support team.'
This week, the school is closed for the Lunar New Year holiday, which means the students will have a week to practise. Vicky, who is in Form Five, is making the most of the break. She will practise and 'won't eat too much during the holiday,' she joked.
As well as the wheelchair racers, the school has four students entering the 10km foot race.
Michael Fu Tak-chiu, Alex Cheung Ngai-hang, Danny See Ka-ho and Cherry Yeung will be accompanied by teachers and physiotherapists.
Form Four student Danny said he is up for the challenge: 'I thought 10km was a very long distance before training. But now I know it is reachable for all four of us.'