Hong Kong debutant Jessica Ho ‘lucky to be alive’ after bridge fall in Colombia
The 24-year-old scrum half plays her first game against Fiji in Friday’s Women’s Rugby World Cup qualifier
As she prepares to make her debut in the biggest match Hong Kong’s women have ever played in, Jessica Ho Wai-on admits she is lucky to be alive.
The 24-year-old fell roughly six metres from a bridge into moving water in Colombia when travelling 18 months ago, suffering a “whole array of injuries” that included breaking her collarbone and hand.
“I’m pretty lucky to be alive,” she said.
“I was out of rugby for about a year with injuries.”
Ho was never in any doubt that she would make it back on to the rugby field and is looking forward to seeing her months of hard work come to fruition against Fiji on Friday night.
The match will go a long way to deciding who will qualify for next year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup, with the top two teams from the round-robin competition featuring Hong Kong, Fiji and powerhouses Japan making it through.
“Since about August when they got me in the programme, this tournament has been the aim,” Ho said.
“I’ve wanted to be in the team but I’ve wanted that starting shirt as well. I’ve always had this as the goal and I’ve worked hard.”
Ho grew up in Hong Kong and captained the Hong Kong under 18 side on their first ever 15s tour – to Japan – in 2010.
She left to study sports science at the University of Exeter in England, before returning to Hong Kong after she graduated two years ago.
The scrum half started in the gym with the national side in January, before joining the elite rugby programme full time in August.
“If I hadn’t started with them in the gym in January, I don’t know if I would be here now,” she says.
“It is all those months of working at it to get to the point where in August they said, ‘OK, come and do the training with us now’. I think I am very fortunate, there is a lot of support that goes into this.”
Her time at university also inadvertently played a big part in Ho’s rugby development, with the tutelage of former England women’s captain Jo Yapp kick-starting her 15s career.
“I didn’t pick my uni for rugby but we happened to have quite a good team and a really good set-up and support system,” she said.
“I’d never really played 15s at that point, I’d only played for the under 18s for one game so I couldn’t really say that I’d played much and she [Yapp] basically coached me through playing in my position.”
Ho went on to become part of the regional development programme for up-and-coming rugby players in England, although playing for Hong Kong was always on her radar.
“It’s a really special team to be a part of and what an incredible time to be part of it,” she said.
“I was originally coming back to try to get into the sevens programme but with injuries that has obviously been much harder than I anticipated.”
With Kazakhstan absent from World Cup qualifying after pulling out of the Asia Rugby Championship earlier in the year, Hong Kong are presented with a golden opportunity to qualify for the tournament for the first time.
“If you take us back to two years ago, it wouldn’t have even crossed my mind,” Ho said.
“I would have had no idea that we would even be eligible, let alone have the chance to actually make it. To think we could be a part of it is huge. A World Cup is something you can only really dream about.”