Academics seem to play first fiddle in Hong Kong, but sport can define a character and change the direction of a person’s life. Kate Cunich speaks to some people whose life has been positively impacted by sport.
Max Woodward, Age 28
Rugby 7s Athlete at the Hong Kong Sports Institute
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Max attended primary school at Hong Lok Yuen International and then West Island School for Secondary. Sport was always a big part of his life, having played rugby and football for as long as he can remember and then at school being involved in cricket, swimming, athletics and cross country as well, Max knew he wanted to follow a career path in sports from a very early age.
Max studied at Cardiff University, doing an undergraduate degree in Business Management and a Masters in Foreign Relations. It was at university that he started focussing solely on rugby, finding that the teachers were very supportive with helping students balance academics and sport. “It was really important for me to learn to manage my time effectively and have something away from rugby to be involved with. Playing sport forever is never an option so I’m grateful that I have my degree already and it’s perhaps something I can pursue when I finish playing.”
Having been interested in sport for as long as he can remember, Max’s hero growing up was English national rugby player Jonny Wilkinson. He also said, “I owe a lot to my PE teacher at West Island School, Mr Lant, who was great at getting everyone involved with as many sports as possible.” Having a role model or mentor can often help to motivate a person, even in the most challenging of times. Max shared some challenges he faced during his time playing rugby, “The biggest challenge has been learning to cope with disappointment and loss. When you train hard for years to achieve a goal, sometimes things don’t go your way and it’s hard to deal with. Coping with injuries is also tough as long term injuries mean you aren’t able to perform what you are paid to do.”
Being a sportsperson has taught Max “the importance of work ethic, and that working hard and being consistent with training can bring you great success.” In Hong Kong, a lot of people tend to migrate towards traditional career paths, which can make it difficult for young people who would like to pursue careers in sport. Max recognises this and advises, “If sport is your passion and you have an opportunity to play professionally, then you should fight for that and enjoy it while it lasts. There is plenty of spare time for other passions while you’re playing, such as studying or starting your own business.”
Max returned to Hong Kong after graduating and started working blah blah blah
Max will be playing for Hong Kong at the Rugby 7s this April. His ultimate goal is to represent Hong Kong at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
Kat Fukunaga, Age 27
Personal Trainer at PURE Fitness ICBC Tower
Kat was born in Japan, grew up in Hong Kong and went to the Japanese International School. Having started sports at the age of five, it has been a big part of his life for as long as he can remember. Football, rugby, basketball and tennis were all sports that Kat was involved in but he eventually, during secondary school, decided to commit to rugby which he continued all through university and still plays today for Valley.
When talking about juggling sports commitments and academics, Kat admits he struggled with this. “I found it very difficult during university, especially to find a good balance. It can be very difficult when you feel passionate about the sport you want to play but also need to maintain good academic scores.” This didn’t prevent him from graduating or from playing rugby though. Kat graduated from the University of Queensland with a degree in Exercise Science (Pre-Physio). He is also a Certified Personal Trainer (NASM), has PICP Level 1 and 2 Certifications, and has a Certification in Trigger Point, all of which allow him to be a Personal Trainer at PURE Fitness.
Kat trains clients at PURE Fitness in an array of areas, including; endurance sport, prehab / post injury, private stretch, speed, agility, Strongman / strength sport, weightlifting, and is also a Metabolic Specialist. He believes that his university studies have helped him in his line of work, “I have found it to be very beneficial to me during my time as a personal trainer because I can combine my knowledge of science with sport and fitness in order to give my clients the best possible outcomes.”
Kat decided to pursue a job in Personal Training when he finished university because, “I have a passion for sports and exercise and I thought it would be a good job opportunity for me to help other people become passionate about fitness as well.” Although he enjoys helping these clients, he would like to do a Masters in Physiotherapy one day.
Kat offers some advice to young people thinking about following a similar path: “Studying before entering a career in sports can be extremely beneficial and will help you stay disciplined. Also having a passion for what you’re doing is very important so that you are able to stay motivated through difficult and challenging times.”
Hanah Fjelddahl, Age 22
Student, dancer and trainer
Hanah’s passion for ballet has been growing all her life. She was dancing as soon as she could walk and hasn’t stopped since. Hanah first began taking ballet classes at her kindergarten. She focussed on ballet right from the start but also branched out and tried other styles of dance including contemporary, Latin and character dance. These were always part of the ballet training programmes that she took part in.
Hanah attended many extra training programmes, including with the Gifted Young Dancer Programme (GYDP) - a dance programme offered by the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts; Boston Ballet Summer School (a five-week intensive programme by the Boston Ballet) and a Summer Intensive Programme by Asian Grand Prix. She went on to dance professionally at The London Ballet Company, but explains how “the experience made me realise that as much as I love to dance, I do not want to live the life of a dancer.” She is now a certified personal trainer and is developing workouts that involve balletic movements.
“My goal is to remove the competitive and professional nature of ballet and make it accessible to everyone.”
The ballet world honours tradition and this can make it a very challenging environment at times. Judith Mackrell, a writer focussing on dance for The Guardian states, “Ballet, like sport, has reached a pitch of technical expertise that requires the most finely tuned of physical instruments. We’re accustomed to ballet dancers with a bare minimum of body fat, used to beautiful, supple bodies that can be stretched and torqued and angled to remarkable extremes.” These unhealthy and unrealistic expectations for ballerinas have really penetrated the culture, and are very difficult to overcome. Hanah advises, “It’s so important to keep a strong mind and focus on yourself, not what others think, or what the norm says.”
Any ballerina will tell you that ballet teaches you a strong sense of discipline. Repeating the same exercises every day in order to formulate a strong foundation, long training sessions and respect for teachers is bound to form an incredibly disciplined environment. Hanah also says that time management is key. When juggling academics at school or university, it is absolutely essential to learn effective time management. “In primary school, I always did my homework while stretching before my ballet classes.” Hanah says this means she is now able to do a lot more than her peers. “On top of studying for school, I find time to go to ballet classes, running, I even go to yoga classes four times a week! Anything is possible if you learn how to be efficient and effective.”
Is dance actually a sport? Hanah says, “A typical ballet is about 2.5-3 hours long. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been on stage jumping and turning for three hours straight, you still need to continue moving with grace, control and with a smile on your face. People don’t realise how much athleticism is involved in ballet.” Many argue that dance is an art form, not a sport, which isn’t incorrect. However, studies have shown that the physical demand placed on ballerinas measures up to that of other professional athletes.
Hanah offers some advice to young people considering a career in ballet: “It’s not an easy path. Stay motivated, passionate and patient. But most importantly – don’t forget to enjoy dancing! I decided to adjust my career path, and step down from the road to becoming a ballerina. I did this because I felt that I was starting to hate ballet more and more. I rediscovered my passion for ballet after I had stepped back from the professional side of it and had started dancing again as an advanced hobby. I’ve found my perfect relationship with ballet, and now I look forward to dancing purely for myself!”
Hanah is currently doing a double major in Business Information Systems and Computer Science at the University of Hong Kong and hopes to graduate in 2020. Her goal is to work as a personal trainer incorporating balletic movements into workout routines in order to make ballet more accessible. “I was inspired by friends telling me they wanted to start ballet because of the beautiful combination of grace and strength they see in ballerinas but they felt they were too old to start. My goal is to help girls and women who feel this way to be able to learn ballet at any age!”
Callum Beattie, age 17 Student and budding footballer
While he hasn't reached the career stage yet, 17-year-old Callum Beattie’s life has defnitely been infuenced by sport, in particular by football. Callum moved to Hong Kong age six and attended French International School before moving across to South Island School in year 7.
Callum initially played both football and rugby – he was in the Hong Kong National Rugby setup for a couple of years and also played football with the Hong Kong Football Club. It was in football that things started to open up, though. “I was asked to play for a team in a men’s league at the age of 14. I was enjoying football more than rugby at the time; also, knowing that academics were going to be important, I realised I had to stop one of the sports, so I focussed on football.”
When Callum was just 15 he was promoted to playing for the top men’s team at the Hong Kong Football Club. The team went on to win the league, making it the best amateur team in Hong Kong.
In March 2018, Callum took part in Hong Kong's first football scouting event for US and Hong Kong universities. During the event, which was run by sports recruitment company Sportsync and Affinity Sport, he was 'spotted' and approached by a number of US universities. He was encouraged to realise that his dream of playing football at a more serious level could become reality. He had a number of conversations with head coaches at the US universities, and really appreciated their advice on playing in the US. Callum is now coming to the end of his time in secondary school, and is looking forward to going to university. Despite not sitting his IB exams until May, he already has an o er from a NCAA Division 1 university – St Bonaventure in New York State, and will be starting in August 2019 with a sports scholarship.
Try to be the most hardworking one in training and the rewards will come in the games. Callum is very aware of needing to continue the juggling act between academics and training. “I’ve always been able to go to every game and training session as I get my work done and handed in on time. Academics are top priority.” And he realises this is something he needs to continue in university; if you don't keep up with your academic grades, you're not allowed to play football.
“Sport has definitely taught me to be patient, and confidence and motivation is something a sportsperson needs in order to succeed and constantly improve.” Callum works hard to keep on top of his game and advises others to do the same: “Try to be the most hardworking one in training and the rewards will come in the games.” Callum's latest wins have included winning the All Hong Kong Schools Jing Ying Football Tournament (in which Callum captained South Island School to victory and was awarded Best Defender of the Tournament), and The Singapore Soccer Sevens with his HKFC team. Callum tries to go to the gym at least three times a week – in addition to training and playing matches. He has qualified to be a young referee for football and referees for younger teams in the Hong Kong Junior League. He also undertook the Level 1 Coaching Course for Football. Callum’s ultimate goal is “to play at a professional level of football, hopefully to the best standard possible.” We hope this dream comes true for Callum and look forward to updating readers on his progress...
This article appeared in Playtimes April Issue 2019.