Eight in a bed: I come from a big family – my mum had 10 kids and I’m the eighth child. I was born in Cheung Chau in 1970. We were a very poor family. My dad passed away when I was eight and my mum had to look after all of us. She wasn’t well educated and mostly did general labour work. My three eldest sisters left school to help earn money for the family. I also did my bit. My mum and sisters took in work making jewellery at home and I’d help them after I’d finished my homework. We all lived in a 700 sq ft flat – 10 kids with my mother and grandmother. My uncle made a very large bed and me and my seven sisters slept on it. Try, try again: As kids our entertainment was either running or swimming in the sea. One day when I was 12, it was too windy to swim, so I watched the windsurfers going really fast, it looked fun. My uncle, Lai Kam, had set up a windsurf centre-cum-cafe on the island and I asked him if he’d teach me. He agreed on condition I spent the summer holiday working at his cafe; he wanted to make sure that I was committed to learning. After a summer of washing dishes and serving customers, finally, it was my chance to learn and he tied a board to an anchor and kept an eye on me from the cafe. The windsurfing equipment in those days was really heavy, and the board was slippery; whenever I tried to pick up the sail I fell off and had trouble getting back up. After half an hour I was really tired and wanted to give up. I sat on the board and thought how I’d spent the summer working towards this opportunity, and I didn’t want to waste it, so I stood up and tried again. When my uncle saw me practising non-stop for 90 minutes, he knew I was serious about wanting to learn and taught me step by step. Sweet taste of success: After a couple of months, he asked if I wanted to compete in a Cheung Chau race. I came second to last, but it was fun. About a year later, I joined the Cheung Chau Open and was easily the youngest in the race. I came second in the women’s category. I loved racing and competing. As soon as school finished I practised, and at weekends I worked in my uncle’s cafe and practised after work. Hong Kong Olympic gold medallist San San is 50 and thinking positive My uncle arranged for me to join lots of competitions. I won the Hong Kong Open (women) and competed around the region, in Singapore and Thailand. I left school at 18. The Asian Games was coming up in 1990, and the Windsurfing Association wanted to form a strong team. I joined the Hong Kong windsurfing team in 1989. In 1990, I moved from Cheung Chau to live in Stanley, close to the training centre. Sam Wong (Tak-sum), who was also on the team and became my boyfriend and later my husband, was born in Stanley. Budget travel: Our Dutch coach, Rene Appel, recommended that we go to Europe for a few months to learn. We had a limited budget, so we stayed at his parents’ house, bought a cheap second-hand car and borrowed a trailer to carry the windsurfing equipment. We went around Europe, first stop France then to Spain and Poland. In France, to save money, we stayed near the beach and decided that two of us would sleep in the car and two outside. Our coach and Sam slept outside – it was 10 degrees (Celsius) and the next morning their faces, which had been sticking out of their sleeping bags, were frozen. We hadn’t expected it to be so windy in Europe but, sailing in the North Sea, the waves were big and our sails broke. Sam was a sail designer and our coach had a friend who let us use his loft to make our own sails. We trained in the morning and afternoon, and after dinner cycled to the loft to work on the sails. After that trip, I won the silver medal in the Asian Games. At the time, Hong Kong had only two other silver medals – in wushu and ping pong. The win helped people hear about windsurfing and we got more funding and were able to compete in Europe every year. Proving a point: The organisers of the European Championships were looking to get more countries to compete in the windsurfing event, so we entered as a Hong Kong team. My coach told me that at the meeting of coaches some of them were complaining about the “rubbish Hong Kong sailors” who were allowed to compete. When I heard that I became determined to prove that we weren’t rubbish. We began preparing for the 1996 Olympics well in advance. The race (held in Savannah, Atlanta, in the United States) would be in the river mouth and we wanted to gather information about the current, wind and weather conditions. We made five trips there before the Olympics and I went with the team three months ahead of the event – I was the only female competing from Hong Kong and there were two men on the team, including Sam, and my coach. Six minutes before the start, I jumped into the water to check a knot and got stung by a bluebottle jellyfish. I climbed back on my board, I was so upset and in a lot of pain. I’d been training for so many years and it had never happened before. I told myself, “You can sit here, or you can try.” I told myself, “I have to try.” During the race, I was in a lot of pain, but I managed to come third in that opening race. I stayed in the leading position through the rest of the competition and won the gold medal. I’d wanted to prove that we weren’t rubbish and I had, which is why when I got on the podium I said, “Hong Kong athletes are not rubbish.” Toilet breaks: Before the 1996 Olympics I was doing a part-time course that was run between the Hong Kong Sports Institute and the University of Canberra, in Australia. I was lucky to join the course because I didn’t have the grades to get into university, but I got an exemption because of my sports results. After the Olympics win, I went to Canberra to finish the course. Sam studied the same course as me – we are always together. We joke that we trained together and studied together and the only time we weren’t together was when we went to the toilet. A tougher challenge: Sam and I got married in 1999. In 2000, he became an assistant coach and also trained me. I competed in the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and then after the Athens Olympics, in 2004, Sam and I started trying for a baby. We didn’t expect it to happen so quickly and our daughter, Haylie, was born in 2005. Two years later, our second daughter, Kallie, was born. After I got pregnant, I stopped sailing. It was a big change. I tried to learn how to become a mum and discovered it wasn’t that easy. As an athlete, everything is under your control, but it’s not the same with two kids; they have their own characters and different learning paths. I discovered I had to learn a lot to cope with it, but it was fun watching them grow. Family jewels: Sam takes care of the financial part. He left coaching in 2006 to help a friend run a sail-making business in China, then he worked on the Hong Kong Olympic Committee for the retired athlete plan for seven years and now he’s a director at the Hong Kong Amateur Hockey Club. I want to stay in Hong Kong; it’s my home. Aside from one sister who moved to Singapore, all my siblings are in Hong Kong. My uncle still runs the windsurfing centre and cafe. We are a close family. If anything happens, we all come together to help. Through my daughters, I’ve made friends with a lot of other mothers. We join up to play badminton, go hiking. I haven’t touched a windsurfer for a long time. I didn’t study well when I was young, now I learn things from our two girls, I read their books, it’s good, my second study path.