28 October 2016
Wim Hekstra, chief executive of Sun Life Hong Kong, is a sports enthusiast who has a strong bond with nature. Photo: HKEJ
Wim Hekstra, chief executive of Sun Life Hong Kong, is a sports enthusiast who has a strong bond with nature. Photo: HKEJ

This Dutch executive is embracing nature with his children

Wim Hekstra, chief executive of Sun Life Hong Kong, is a sports enthusiast who often participates in local and overseas marathon and triathlon races.

He once finished a local half-marathon in one hour 34 minutes, quite a remarkable record for someone like him. 

Hekstra is gearing up for the Dragon Boat Festival on Saturday, buoyed by good memories from last year.

“It’s like a great party to me,” Hekstra says.

Hekstra arrived in Hong Kong in the summer of 2003 and one of his first experiences was the sight of rowers near his home in Stanley.

After all these years, that scene still fascinates him.  

“There aren’t any dragon boat races in Holland,” he says.

In June last year, he found himself holding an oar and ready to give a dragon boat a go.

“Every year, people from all around the world gather and compete in Stanley beach. That’s so festive and wonderful.”

There’s an old Hong Kong saying that a dragon boat will sink if a gweilo is rowing.

Hekstra may not have heard of it but he is nonetheless leaving nothing to chance. “We have a devoted team of 18 men and women.”

Still, Hekstra is not fixated with results, saying a race is more meaningful when competitors “enjoy the process”.

He often participates in races not merely to win but to experience new possibilities and test his personal limits.

Hekstra has a relatively short experience with the Dargon Boat Festival but he knows quite a bit about its long history.

For instance, he will tell you that the festival is held in remembrance of the Chinese poet Qu Yuan. He is also quick to point out that nowadays, people like to eat dumplings at dragon boat races.

Hekstra’s local knowledge comes both from experience and legend. From fishermen, he learned that dragon boat racing is done for good luck and to seek blessings for safety at sea.

Hekstra was born in Holland and moved to Kenya with his family at the age of 11.

It was while living there in the next 10 years that he became something of a free spirit and an adventurer. He quickly developed a strong bond with nature.

Hekstra came to Hong Kong with his wife and nine-month-old daughter in 2003 as part of a job-related relocation.

“I’m used to moving around and learning new cultures. Coming to Hong Kong is a great opportunity. It was a family decision.”

Having lived in Hong Kong for 12 years, Hekstra has managed to pick up enough Cantonese words to order his favorite dim sum.

Colleagues later gave him a Chinese name which translates to “a brilliant wise man arriving in summer”.

“Hong Kong is an interesting place. You can enjoy nature without going too far away from the city,” he says.

However, he says he is upset by the hot, humid weather and traffic congestion.

And he agrees Hong Kong people could use a break from too much work pressures.

Sports have given Hekstra a way to escape Hong Kong’s hectic lifestyle. He makes it a point to jog every day, usually before or after work.

And he likes to hang out with friends and grab a few beers while watching football matches together.

Hekstra is teaching his children in the ways of nature, saying class tuitions and piano lessons are not really for them.

“Embrace nature with your children. Stay healthy and be happy. That’s what is most important.”

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 19.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

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In 2014, Wim Hekstra won the three-kilometer event of the UNCIEF Charity Run. Photo: HKEJ

Wim Hekstra and a colleague are ready to give a dragon boat a go. Photo: HKEJ

For this year’s Dragon Boat Festival races, Wim Hekstra says they have a devoted team of 18 men and women. Photo: HKEJ

Wim Hekstra is shown with his colleagues on a business trip in New York last year. Photo: HKEJ

Wim Hekstra encourages people to do sports and to embrace nature with their children. Photo: HKEJ

Hong Kong Economic Journal writer

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