Wheelchair athletes join the fun at Hong Kong Marathon

Former Paralympic fencing champion finds new passion in life as he crosses finish line first

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 February, 2013, 4:13am

Fung Ying-ki has every right to rest comfortably on the laurels he accepted as a multiple gold-medal-winning Paralympian in fencing but almost seven years into retirement from that sport, he showed yesterday that he had lost none of his appetite for a contest.

The 33-year-old won the wheelchair half-marathon after covering the course in one hour, nine minutes and 56 seconds.

Fung said after a decade of competing at the very top level of fencing - during which time he collected three golds at the Paralympics in Sydney in 2000 and two more in Athens in 2004 - distance events had brought with them a welcome change of pace.

"I still like to compete," said Fung, who has been racing for three years. "But these days I do it more for fun."

While last year's wheelchair event raised eyebrows - and the ire - of athletes due to congestion and collisions, race organisers seemed to get things right this time around.

"It was windy out there, especially once you came out of the tunnel," explained Fung. "It made it tough. The good thing for us was the event was much better than last year. The organisers separated our starting time from the able-bodied runners so we weren't running into them. Last year that was a big problem, this year we were able to enjoy the race and not worry about that happening."

Fung was struck down at 13 by acute transverse myelitis - a disorder caused by a swelling of the spinal cord - after a wound on his forearm became infected and spread to his bones. He trained himself to walk again after the 2004 Paralympics and then retired from fencing but, at the urging of his wife, he decided to explore the opportunities offered by wheelchair athletics.

"I can now walk but I can't run so being able to compete in this event is very special to me," said Fung.

Fung trains regularly at Sha Tin with other wheelchair athletes and said the increasing profile of wheelchair events meant that more athletes were joining them each year.

"At Sha Tin we can use the cycling tracks to train and it gives us plenty of freedom," he said. "The first time I competed was when the marathon was held at the airport in 1998 and that was a 10km race and it was something very new and different for Hong Kong. Now we feel like we are a regular part of the event."