Winnie Cheung will not let being deaf stop her from pursuing dream of playing rugby for Hong Kong
After overcoming personal challenges and giving back to the community, player and coach is nominated for South China Morning Post’s Spirit of Hong Kong Awards
Winnie Cheung Wing-yin never expects any special treatment on the rugby pitch, even if she is deaf.
To Cheung, fairness is the foremost rule of sport, as well as an essential ingredient for an inclusive society.
“I love rugby because of its simple rules. It’s also an exciting game,” she said.
Born into a typical local family and going through the city’s education system, Cheung leads a life like that of many of her peers – except everything around her is on mute.
First attracted to the game in 2009, when Hong Kong Rugby Union organised a Learn English Through Rugby programme at Chun Tok School, she trained herself to lip-read in the fast-paced game.
“I trained hard and always started training before other team members arrived,” Cheung said.
The 23-year-old has never let her impairment define her, or hold her back. The first deaf rugby coach in the city, she also plays for Kowloon Rugby Football Club, and is determined to earn a spot in the women’s Hong Kong team.
In October last year, Cheung was recruited to join the HKRU on a 12-month apprentice programme, working as an “inclusive rugby participation officer”.
In this role she helps promote the union’s vision of making rugby “a game for all” by coaching at different local special needs schools.
She has been a guest speaker for many different groups and institutions, including the University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Social Sciences, where she shared her story with a group of future social workers.
Cheung said she had also provided training for children of deaf adults, who can hear but are being brought up in a household without speech.
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She hopes to elevate rugby to a community-wide social inclusion campaign.
“With modified rules, even wheelchair users and blind people can enjoy playing the game,” Cheung said.
Hong Kong Rugby has recommended the young woman for the South China Morning Post’s Spirit of Hong Kong Awards in the Overcoming Personal Challenge category.
“The game has strengthened my willpower,” Cheung said of her rugby experience.
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While she believes discrimination against people with disabilities still exists in society, she said she had chosen to face the situation positively.
“Don’t give up … but don’t expect instant success,” Cheung said, adding that hard work was crucial.
On the field, she said Royce Chan, who plays for the national team, had been an inspiration to her, adding that she was also impressed by the grit and skills of Japanese Sevens player Chiharu Nakamura, and her team.
One day she hopes to join their ranks as a full international. “Everything is possible,” Cheung said.