Asian Games 2018: flying solo and a HK$200,000 bill can’t stop Hong Kong paraglider Choi Lai-yin chasing her dream
The paraglider works full-time as a nurse and has had to dip into her own pocket to make it to Indonesia but says the passion of the sport comes first
She’s made it to the Asian Games while juggling a full-time job and will be competing alone in a team event but for Hong Kong’s Choi Lai-yin living out her dream is the only thing that matters.
Unlike their 580 Hong Kong teammates who are professional athletes, Choi and most of her paragliding colleagues work full-time and squeeze their training into their spare time.
Choi, a gynaecology nurse, is the only representative for Hong Kong in the women’s cross-country team, despite a women’s cross-country team requiring the score of two competitors. Hong Kong’s other score will now be set as zero.
“We do have some other athletes but they have yet to reach the standard. Of course it will be tough to get a medal as we can only have one score for the team,” said Choi, who has been paragliding for more than 10 years. “I would be very happy if I can beat half of the competitors in Palembang.”
It’s been a long and winding road to Indonesia for Choi, but she has spared no expense to ensure she is in the thick of the action as paragliding makes its Asian Games debut.
“To make my Asian Games dream, I have spent over HK$200,000 this year and all from my own pocket,” said Choi.
“But it doesn’t matter as this is the first time paragliding is an Asian Games sport and an opportunity that we cannot miss, even if there is only a theoretical chance that we can win a medal.”
The men will have a full four-member team and they have set their sights on making the podium.
“Our major opponents will be Japan, South Korea, Iran and China and our target is to finish in the top three,” said Chiu Ho-nam, a psychiatry nurse.
His teammates are doctor Kevin Lee Yip-chee, a dermatology specialist, Qian Mingwei, who works in finance, and retiree Vong Kam-meng.
The cross-country competition is held over five days, with competitors tackling 20 kilometres a day and needing to clear a number of “way points” on their way to finish.
“I once spent more than seven hours in a race and it takes a lot from your body, physically and mentally. All the energy supply as well body secretion have to be done in the air,” Chiu said.
If it can win an Asian Games medal, paragliding will receive financial support from the Sports Institute as it is likely to remain on the medal programme for the Games in Hangzhou in 2022.
For Choi, money is not the most important thing: “We enjoy the freedom of flying in the sky and it’s not always money that matters. It will be good to have financial support but the passion of the sport always comes first.”
Hong Kong will also have one competitor in the men’s accuracy landing in Palembang. Eric Yam Chi-wai, who works in the disciplinary forces, will need to race 12 rounds in four days.
The closer he gets to the target in each round, the fewer penalty points he will score. The maximum penalty is 500 if he lands five metres from the target.
“China is keen to see the sport remain in the Asian Games as they have developed the sport very well,” he said. “France is the birthplace of paragliding and one of the best in the world. There is not without chance of seeing it in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.”