How cycling changed my life: one Hong Kong teen’s transformation from 'bad apple' to passionate athlete


Sam Ngan spent the past year training at the Cycling Association of Hong Kong’s Stars of the Future programme and shows no sign of slowing down

Kelly Ho |

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Sam Ngan Shu-sum is one of the five finalists of the Best Improvement catergory in the Student of the Year awards 2018.

It was Sam Ngan Shu-sum’s idea to meet at the secluded Stonecutters Bridge Viewpoint, next to the Marine Department Kwai Chung Control Station on Stonecutters Island.

The area is not accessible by public transport, so it is not frequented by visitors, except for Sam. It is only a 15-minute bike ride from the cyclist’s home.

The serene water surrounding us was the perfect setting for him to tell the story of how cycling has transformed his life.

The 17-year-old said he had been a troublemaker during his early years in secondary school. Not only would he often disrupt his classes, or get into fights, but he was also caught smoking in the school bathroom on one occasion.

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He was labelled a bad apple by teachers and the principal, and became increasingly frustrated with his school life.

“I was really upset, because teachers just started blaming everything on me,” Sam recalled.

“Instead of trying to lead me back to the right path, they wanted me to drop out of school.”

Luckily, with the help of a social worker, Sam got a second chance. He was transferred to his current school, Society of Boys’ Centres Hui Chung Sing Memorial School, when he was in Form Two.

Sam Ngan was labelled a 'bad apple' by teachers in early secondary school.
Photo: Kelly Ho/SCMP

This was a turning point for him. Not only was he able to start with a clean slate, but his eyes were also opened to the world of sports, which gave him a sense of direction and purpose.

He took up triathlon, but struggled in the beginning because his fitness was no match for the high level of physical strength and stamina required for the sport. What kept Sam going was the fact that the multisport involved cycling, a passion he had always wanted to pursue but was not able to because of his family could not afford it.

“I would come last in races all the time. Triathlon is such a tough sport, and it’s so much easier to give up than persevere,” Sam said.

“But then I would think about how much I wanted to do cycling when I was a kid, and I would power through.”

Sam strived to improve in the sport, but had to deal with the consequences of his unhealthy habits. He would often find himself out of breath during races as a result of smoking, and knew he had to quit if he wasn’t to get better.

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He finally gave up in 2017, which improved his health significantly. He made a breakthrough in the same year when he won a bronze medal at the Duathlon Series – Race 2, Boys 2002 category in September.

“The reason why I started smoking was because I felt like there was nothing else to do. But with my training, my life has become a lot more fulfilling,” said Sam.

As can be clearly seen from his competition results, Sam performs best on his bicycle. This is why he eventually decided to make cycling his main sport.

Instead of renting his bike and gear from the school like before, Sam now relies on scholarships to pay for his equipment and bicycle maintenance.

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He likens his uphill battle in life to cycling up a steep slope. “Conquering difficult roads helped me understand the importance of perseverance. You cannot stop pedalling, or else you will slide down. It’s the same in life.”

After spending the past year in the “Stars of the Future” training programme offered by the Cycling Association of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Sports Institute, as well as learning more about the local cycling scene, Sam has a different career outlook.

Rather than setting his heart on making the representative team, Sam wants to share his passion and use his experience to influence lost youngsters like he once was.

“I don’t think joining the Hong Kong team is the only path [for me]. I would prefer to get a trainer’s licence when I turn 18, so I can start coaching and share my experiences with people,” Sam said.