Hong Kong rugby hall of famer Ricky Cheuk’s sense of timing as finely tuned as ever
Former Hong Kong sevens team captain reflects on the exciting life path the game has provided him
“Timing has always been the best element in my life. I have been blessed to have been in the right place at the right time.” So said Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon.
Ricky Cheuk Ming-yin, the first local Chinese player to score a try at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Argentina in 2001, could say the same thing.
Although the poster boy for local rugby, now aged 34, has achieved much, being an astronaut is not one of them.
However, in a sense his father was an “astronaut”, this being the colloquial term for a man who had a wife, work and children in more than one country, in order to shore up a future for the family, particularly common in the time before Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997.
Cheuk’s family sent him to Canada when he was eight to live with family friends, and brought him back after the handover.
“I came back to Hong Kong reluctantly,” he says. “I loved the outdoors and wanted to play ice hockey for Canada.”
It didn’t take him long to find a new direction. “Rugby gave me focus and I made a lot of friends.
“Thinking back now, I can’t believe that I was playing in the 2001 RWC7s in Argentina when I was still at school doing my A levels.
“Chan Fuk-ping was the only other Chinese guy in the team and I looked up to him. He was a lot older than me, and he was fearless.
“He was the tough guy who really put us on the map.”
Cheuk then went on to play in the Hong Kong Sevens when he was still at school. “Good people, good timing and good skill helped. I can’t really believe what I achieved. I had a lot of support.”
One of his first coaches was Jim Walker, who was quickly impressed by Cheuk’s athleticism.
“Ricky had only taken up rugby as a 16- or 17-year-old at King George V school, and proved himself a natural, super-quick athlete who knew where the try line was.
“He was easy to coach because of his intelligence, ability to listen, his natural balance and athleticism and of course, good ball skills.”
After Argentina, he made his debut at the Hong Kong Sevens and became an instant hero. “It was fun scoring a couple of tries in front of my school friends in the South Stand.”
The Hong Kong set-up was undergoing massive change, from reliance on travelling expat players working in Hong Kong for short periods to a focus on home-grown talent.
It was a huge transition and paved the way for a new generation of players such as Mark Wright, Rowan Varty and Keith Robinson.
Cheuk went on to captain the sevens team at the Asian Games and was vice-captain at the 2007 Hong Kong Sevens. He retired in 2009 after two knee operations. In 2015, he was inducted into the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s hall of fame.
Fitness is still his life. “I’ve been in business with rugby friends and school friends for years. The Mazu swimwear business I share with ex-Hong Kong player and schoolmate Adam Raby.
“One of my two Warrior Muay Thai gym businesses shares a space with Coastal Fitness owners and former Hong Kong players, Ed and Ant Haynes.”
The same flair and determination he showed on the pitch he soon showed as an entrepreneur, with restaurants such as Ramen Jo and NOM – Not Only Meatballs
He recently decided to step down from being a director and take a different direction in his work. “I’m very excited about being chief operating officer of Goji Studios because it combines both fitness and wellness, which I believe in.”
His life apart from work now is involvement with his family and friends, many of them from rugby.
“Looking back, I can’t quite believe the life that playing rugby gave me. I got to travel the world and compete at such a young age.
“Hong Kong is in my blood and I’m happy here. I’m an all or nothing kind of guy, and at the moment, there is not time for me to be involved as much with rugby, but when my kids start playing, that could be a very different story,” says Cheuk with a smile, as if to say ‘watch this space’.