Spirit of Hong Kong

Spirit of Hong Kong 2014

Fighting fit student looks to the future

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 August, 2014, 12:55pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 May, 2015, 5:26pm

It's hard to imagine what a nightmare that month must have been five years ago, when Jake Leung Siu-lun went from being a top student and very capable swimmer and sportsman, to life in a wheelchair, paralysed from the waist down.

"I started not to feel anything in my legs and then my arm. It wasn't so much about pain, just a numbness," says Leung, 23, over a coffee at Polytechnic University, where he is about to start studying for a degree in medical laboratory science.

His condition is known as spinal arteriovenous malformation, or spinal AVM, a rare, abnormal tangle of the blood vessels on, or near, the spinal cord.

It happened when he was coming up for 18 years old and preparing for his Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) exams.

Leung cites an incredibly supportive family in Tuen Mun for helping him to get through the ordeal and start a new life in a wheelchair.

He had several operations to help with the condition but they were not successful, and led to temporary paralysis in his arm. During the period that followed, Leung says he completely lost his confidence as he couldn't even feed himself.

Previously nicknamed the "little shark" for his swimming abilities, Leung's occupational therapist recommended that he learn a new sport that would be good for his arms and help regain his confidence.

Leung has subsequently become a fencer and quickly earned himself a place in the regional fencing team for the physically disabled. He's emerged as an athlete with huge potential.

"Fencing is a bit different from other sports," he says, "because it really involves the forearms. So I do training exercises with my forearms at the gym, lifting weights. But it's also about the fitness of the whole body."

It's a very fast sport, says Leung, where much depends on reflex speed. Fencing also appealed to him because often people in wheelchairs choose more sedate sports, he says, such as lawn bowls. But fencing is a sport that shows his speed, agility and independence.

Leung's illness was psychologically devastating. He went from being a fit young man to being unable to do everything for himself.

But these days, Leung takes a positive view - he has his life ahead of him. He's looking forward to becoming a laboratory analyst at the end of his studies and meanwhile travels extensively for fencing championships.

The Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union has nominated Leung for the "Overcoming Personal Challenges to Achieve" category of the Spirit of Hong Kong Awards 2014. HKPTU members were impressed by how Leung has managed to overcome the difficulties of his illness, and move on to new endeavours.