It takes hard work and dedication for an individual to become an athlete.
For an individual with disability, it takes unqualified love and support from the whole family to excel in the sport.
Torah Ho Yuk-to, who suffers from a mild intellectual disability and autism, not only became an athlete but a champion.
Ho bagged the gold medal at the singles ice dancing competition during the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, his first international outing.
Last month, the 17-year-old won another gold medal for figure skating and a bronze medal for 111-meter speed skating at the 40th Hong Kong Special Olympic Ice Skating Competition.
These are remarkable achievements for such a young player, whose performances continue to awe and inspire everyone.
Ho got interested in the sport through his elder sister, who was fond of attending ice-skating classes.
It didn’t occur to the family that her young brother also wanted to join in her favorite pastime; back then he was having difficulties to balance himself while walking.
But it soon became obvious to the family that the boy enjoyed watching his sister merrily skate on ice from the spectators’ stand.
Just to allow her son to have some fun, Mrs. Ho signed him up for ice-skating classes offered by the Hong Kong Sports Association for Persons with Intellectual Disability.
His trainers were impressed with his determination to learn and quick grasp of the basics.
To the family’s surprise, Ho was able to make steady progress in the demanding sport, while his sister eventually lost interest and quit at the age of eight or nine.
He has been so absorbed in the game that he would not think of giving up even if he has fallen so many times, his mother said, adding that he has become more confident and physically stronger from the sport.
“Once he got some really bad bruises on the legs and that took more than three months to heal,” his mother said.
Athletes with intellectual disabilities often need around five lessons to master one new step in figure skating.
But coach Ng Yee-man is highly impressed with Ho’s innate talent in the sport, plus his good memory.
“He can manage to do a newly taught move in the next lesson,” she said.
“Compared to normal children, he is more obedient and focused and wouldn’t complain about feeling tired of practicing the same moves. In the Hong Kong team, he is also one of the quick learners.”
Ho himself knows the reason for his success in the sport: “Whenever I encounter difficulties, I practice hard and overcome them one by one.”
He said figure skating is his favorite sport. “I feel excited the moment I jump into the air, land smoothly and continue skating on ice.”
Ho does particularly well in ice dancing, which requires a strong sense of the musical beat. He is a Grade 5 piano player, which means tempo and music are not strange concepts for him.
Ho finds it quite exhilarating to recall his experiences at the Olympics, where he competed and made friends with athletes from all over the world.
“It was my first time to take a flight,” he said. “I spoke English and Mandarin to communicate with others.”
Speaking of the future, Ho said he would like to be a professional figure skating athlete.
His mother said she would fully support her son in whatever he would like to pursue.
Right now, he is learning advanced moves in figure skating and ice dancing to upgrade his skills for the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 1.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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