Window to a new world: City University students to guide special needs teens through Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon
Reeve Yuen and Anthony Wong are providing pacing and friendship for students of Mary Rose School
When City University (CityU) students Reeve Yuen Wing-fung and Anthony Wong jun-kang met their Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon running partners for the first time last November, a window opened to a new world.
“I thought it would be hard to communicate with him at first, but after meeting my partner, I realised it was actually fun,” said 22-year-old Yuen, who also competes in university taekwondo tournaments.
“You realise that – throughout training – they have just as much persistence as we do. Every 10km run is a challenge and sometimes you just want to give up, but I’ve never seen that attitude from Lok-nam.”
Wong, part of the university dragon boat team, felt similarly.
“I participated in this programme because I wanted to help, but I was a bit worried beforehand,” the 21-year-old said. “But working with Cheuk-man was unexpectedly easy – it was kind of mind blowing.”
Chan Lok-nam, 18, and Man Cheuk-man, 17, are students of Mary Rose School, a special needs school led by principal Chan Nga-lai.
Along with a healthy mix of students, teachers and volunteers, the pair will challenge themselves in this Sunday’s 10km category.
“Most of our students suffer from intellectual disabilities ranging from mild to moderate. We have children with autism, Down syndrome, brain damage and others,” said principal Chan, who joined her students in a final pre-marathon training session at the Joint Sports Centre in Kowloon.
“Back in 2008, we realised that some students had a gift in these kinds of sports; it’s simple as long as you can run, so we gradually trained up their stamina and technique.
“We soon faced a problem: the students have to be accompanied by someone, especially for long runs. So we managed to find universities willing to collaborate with us and we matched our students up with their students according to speed and ability. This year, we’ve partnered with CityU for the first time.”
The university students will not only act as pacers for Chan and Man, but as friends from the outside world.
“For them, it’s a window to the so-called ‘ordinary’ people,” said principal Chan. “It’s a chance to get to know somebody who is not from school. It’s also a window for the wider public to reach in to.
“When you observe them training, some of the more sociable students take the initiative to talk to their partners – to raise questions, even if they are simple or silly – and start a conversation. It’s a sport as well as a social event.”
Partner Yuen certainly has his work cut out for him, however, as his counterpart is one of the most experienced runners at the school.
“The coaches try to find the best matches so as to guarantee everyone sticks with their partners, but [Lok-nam] has done a lot of long-distance running,” said Yuen.
“We warm up and train together but he’s very experienced. I guide him throughout, telling him to watch out if we’re running outside the [normal] tracks.
“When I get tired I look next to me and he just keeps moving. They won’t slow down, and it’s motivational because if they can do it, why can’t I?”
For dragon boater Wong, the difficulty lies in concentration and discipline.
“My partner is a bit different,” he said. “Sometimes he might run faster than me because he can’t really control his own pacing. He might dash uncontrollably and sometimes – when he feels frustrated – he will walk.
“My responsibility is to be beside him, keep the pace, and avoid these kinds of things happening.
“Running 8km is like the last 20m of a dragon boat race; it’s very frustrating but with each race, we become more motivated and step on the gas.”
With an army of such high-spirited young partners for her students, Chan is overwhelmed with excitement ahead of race day. And rightly so, considering she will be there every step of the way.
“I was a PE teacher before I became principal, doing running and swimming. It’s not hard work, it’s my thing,” she said.
“I definitely want to show my students and staff that I am one of them; I want to show them the right attitude in practice and competitions.
“I don’t know what words to use to express my gratitude to these lovely people who offered such a valuable opportunity for us,” added Chan.
“I always encourage them to make full use of it and try our best to open up to people.”