Hong Kong’s own “blade runner” Chris Harris is happy that he took the advice of a friend who three years ago urged him to take up rugby again. He followed her counsel and joined Leighton Asia HKCC where he now turns out for Freeze in the Third Division.
“It was the best decision I made since coming to Hong Kong,” says Harris, who lost his left leg in an accident when he was three-years-old.
A lock forward, the Englishman adds cheekily: “Well, probably not for my liver, but certainly it has improved my well-being and social life in Hong Kong.”
Harris, who arrived in town five years ago, stayed away from a sport he used to play in school in England because he didn’t know what sort of reception a one-legged player would get. He needn’t have worried. HKCC have welcomed him with open arms in true rugby spirit, proving that the game is really for all shapes and sizes, for able-bodied as well as the disabled.
“I played rugby in school in England until I was 11, when I gave up sports because I found my grades were suffering. But I have always loved it and a couple of years after moving to Hong Kong, a friend, Anna, asked me why I didn’t come along for training one day. I’m thankful I heeded her advice,” says Harris who as a ball-winner in the lineout is a crucial cog for HKCC Freeze.
As a toddler, Harris was playing outside his home in Borrowash, Derbyshire when he fell in front of a lawn-mover and, before anyone could react, he was left with a badly mangled leg.
“They had to amputate it below my knee and I have worn a prosthetic limb ever since,” Harris says. “But because I had this accident at such a young age, it almost feels like second nature to me to wear an artificial limb. As far as I’m concerned I walk and run normally.”
Fitted out with a Flex Foot – similar to the one South African runner Oscar Pistorius made famous – Harris has made himself an integral part of the Wan Chai Gap Road club. He began playing for the fifth team and has steadily progressed up the ranks and is even eyeing a place in the seconds, who compete in National League 1.
“It has been great playing with the guys. I have gained a lot of confidence and thrown myself to the limit,” the 26-year-old says. “The Flex Foot is quite good for running and simulates the calf muscle but I’m not hanging out on the wing. Rugby is a skills-based game and it suits me perfectly.”
The dapper second-rower who arrived in Hong Kong to run the local branch of the family business – a garment labelling company – has scoured the internet for any other rugby players like him. So far his search has proven fruitless.
“I definitely know there is no one like me in Hong Kong. I haven’t found anyone even in the UK. There are cases of rugby players with arm injuries, but those without a leg I have been unable to find,” says Harris.
Married to childhood sweetheart Gemma, the Englishman is still hunting for his first try for Freeze, who are currently in fourth place in the National League 2 standings.
“It is difficult being stuck in the middle of the lineout,” Harris says, cheerfully. “But I’m happy I’m out there and really grateful that I rediscovered rugby. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it until I started playing for HKCC again.”