Role-model Rosie a passionate pioneer
When she hears the phrase 'mothers, love, food and career - the four major guilt groups', Rosie Fong can't help but smile. 'Yes, I can relate to that,' laughs the 22-year-old centre who made her debut for the Hong Kong women's sevens team this year. But, Rosie is not guilty about anything; she is just focused and upbeat.
Against myriad odds, Rosie carved her own path in rugby in the same way she carved up the field from the age of seven on her home turf, out in the New Territories at the Flying Kukris rugby club. A kukri is a Gurka knife and the club was started by the British Air Force.
'When I first joined the Flying Kukris at seven, I used to play in the boys' team, as there weren't enough girls,' she said. 'I was often the only girl in my team and I loved that I was treated like one of the boys. When I was too old to play with the boys at 13, I had to start my own all-girls team at the Kukris, because there was no way I was joining a rival club.'
This fierce loyalty to club, family and friends is part of Rosie's psyche, and is evident when she talks about her mother, Suki, who became involved with rugby to support her two daughters and son who were playing the game. 'My mother was definitely one of the pioneers for girls' rugby from minis to under-19s. She did so much for girls' rugby, always getting a foot in the door for us.'
After the severe acute respiratory syndrome scare in 2003, finances were tight and there were many worries. When Rosie took to the pitch she vented her emotions. 'I loved the physicality and intensity which rugby was all about. I participated in a number of sports, but from the first time I took to the rugby pitch I loved it. I felt some anger growing up, and rugby is the perfect way to channel anger. You can let go, it's a release.'
Circumstances improved, and with the help of the HKRFU's Charitable Trust Rosie attended Durham College in Britain to complete her A-levels at 16, and then later study for a degree at Leeds Metropolitan University on a full scholarship where she received a first class honours degree in sports performance.
'I always aspired to go to the UK,' she said. 'My mother is from Northampton and, as a Eurasian, it loomed large on my horizon. I wanted to live beyond Hong Kong. I represented a number of teams in England. I started with a regional squad in the northeast of England and then was chosen to join England's Under-18s talent development group. I eventually joined England Under-20s when I was 17 and played with them for three seasons.
'Playing for England Under-20s was a massive honour, as it had been my goal since I decided to move to England, as well as completing my studies. It was physically and mentally intense.'
Rosie feels the Hong Kong system for youth is more fine-tuned. 'The grass-roots scheme is exceptional here - there is a massive difference between Hong Kong and England in terms of the development of women's rugby.'
Despite her overseas success, Hong Kong will always be Rosie's home. 'I returned last summer, and now there are full girls-only teams from under-9s up. The boom in women's rugby has been phenomenal and really is a testament to a few women driving the sport to the forefront of various HKRFU meetings. One of them is my mother who went on to be the chairwoman for the girls' committee.'
Rosie has been aware for most of her life that she is a role model. 'When I was eight, adults used to come up to me on pitches and comment on how well I was playing. Everyone knew who I was. I felt like I had to live up to something, and I believed from quite young that it was up to myself to be self-motivated and turn things around.
'Still today I believe I have to lead by example and try to inspire the students in the school where I teach to always do their best. I was the first girl in Hong Kong to get financial help from the HKRFU; I have to lead by example.'
The additional help from the union was a psychological coup, but the seeds of success planted by Rosie's mother brought her across the line. 'Without mum I would not have learned to strive to be the best. She gave constant reinforcement, encouragement, and support. Without the scholarship, I wouldn't have received the education that I got, and well, without rugby ... who knows where I would have ended up.'