When you are born with jaundice, which affects your body balance, it is unlikely that you will walk properly. But So Wa-wai, whowas born with the condition, not only walked – he went on to become a Paralympic runner. With a time of 12.15 seconds, he is currently the men’s world record holder for 100 metres (in the cerebral palsy category) and has won 11 medals across four Paralympic Games. Many deem him Hong Kong’s miracle athlete.
How did you get involved with sports? As a kid, I loved to run around. I liked taking part in school athletics’ meets and my performance at one caught the attention of athletics coach Poon Kin-lui. I was in Primary Five at the time and the coach asked if I wanted to train with him. My mother warned me that trainingwould be tough, but I didn’t believe her. Looking back, I was naive not to. I thought training would be relaxing and a time for fun. How wrong I was, though of course I enjoy it.
What has been your most memorable sporting moment? My first Paralympics in Atlanta in 1996. The team only had three runners on the 4x100 relay team, and so I had the chance to be the fourth, even though I was only 14 years old. To everyone’s surprise,we won gold for the men’s 4×100 relay (in the T34-37 class).
What is your approach to tough competition? The 2008 Paralympics was a major disappointment as I failed to win any gold medals. I guess the pressure of running on home soil was too great for me. After this, I realised that it doesn’t matter whether I win or lose, so long as I have done my best. You may be improving, but others are also getting better, so work hard, give your best, and there will be no regrets.
How has sport helped you to develop as a person? My performance on the tracks caught the attention of pop star Andy Lau Tak-wah, who is an ambassador for the Paralympics. He saw me working hard, and appreciated my persistence, and so offered me a job at his “Andy World Club” fan club. This has been a blessing for me and my family, as it is not easy for disabled people like me to find a job. Lau has been very kind and supportive of my running career, offering me extra leave so I can properly prepare and participate in competitions.
Who has inspired you to work harder? It has got to be my boss, Andy Lau. He is the most hardworking person I have ever met. I have nothing but respect for him. He has really supported me.
How does it feel to be a role model? I am a veteran now and must set an example for the younger runners. I also give talks to students and have appeared in advertisements. I know I am someone who others look up to, and I do my best in sports and as a citizen. Today’s suicide problem among youngsters really breaks my heart. I think the youth of today give up too easily. One must find a goal, whether it be sports, art or music. There is no reason to give up.
What are your goals for the future? My goal is to break my personal 100-metre record. My aim is to get it to below 12 seconds. I have qualified for the 2012 London Paralympic Games and will definitely go, providing that I am well enough.