Annual Student of the Year awards seek young Hongkongers who’ve overcome odds to strive for excellence
Among the 12 students shortlisted for the best improvement category are disabled athlete Annie Cheung and troubled teen turned mountain biker Henry Chan
Crouched over his mountain bike and skilfully navigating dirt trails, Henry Chan Chiu-ki looks nothing like a troubled young man.
But just a few years ago, the 18-year-old used to stay overnight at internet cafes with his friends, obsessively playing computer games. He even met people from triads.
The Form Five pupil at Society of Boys’ Centres Hui Chung Sing Memorial School admitted: “Starting from Form One, I have been smoking, drinking and [sometimes] skipping school.”
But in Form Three, Chan joined a cycling class in school and in a clear sign of his potential, made it into the Cycling Association of Hong Kong’s competition team last summer. He represented the city for the first time in an overseas race last August.
With his recent transformation, Chan is now among 12 shortlisted nominees in the best improvement category for the Student of the Year Awards, organised by the South China Morning Post and solely sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
The 37th edition of the awards, which will be held on Saturday at Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel, honours secondary school students for outstanding achievements in nine categories, including academic subjects, sports, the arts, personal growth and contributions to the community.
Chan’s love for mountain biking, which he described as giving him a sensation of being “free and unrestrained”, has pushed him to be a more disciplined person.
His parents separated when he was 10, and he looked outside his home for comfort and a sense of belonging. He now realises he was “idling and wasting my life at that time”, and to make up for those days, he now goes to bed at 11pm so he can be fresh and rested for training the next day.
“I have transformed from a useless youngster to a person who is striving for goals,” Chan said.
Chan said he wanted to be a full-time athlete and take part in the Asian Games, and also had aspirations to be a social worker to help youngsters cope with the same experiences he had growing up.
Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, CEO of the Jockey Club and a member of the advisory board of the awards this year, said he would be looking for young people who embraced challenges.
“I’m looking for individuals who are constantly striving for excellence, who are determined, and who are not put off by the challenges they face,” he said.
Another nominee who fits the bill is Annie Cheung Yuen, an 18-year-old girl who has stiff joints because of a condition called arthrogryposis.
Cheung, currently a Form Six pupil at Hong Kong Red Cross Princess Alexandra School, said she used to lack self confidence but that had improved after she began playing boccia – a ball sport for disabled athletes where they have to throw coloured balls as close as possible to a target ball – competitively.
“You have to make your own decisions during competitions, and you have to trust yourself to do that,” Cheung said, adding that she received more professional training after joining the Sports Association for the Physically Disabled in late 2013.
Cheung, who cannot walk well and has to sometimes rely on wheelchairs, has been part of the Hong Kong boccia team since 2014.
Last year, she won a gold and a silver medal from two international competitions respectively.