Blind runner laps up life

Reported by Vanessa Cheung Edited by Yannie Mak

 Tuesday, April 02, 2013

On a cool and breezy night at the Hammer Hill Road Sports Ground in Diamond Hill, the sea of runners practicing for the Standard Chartered Marathon was joined by an unusual duo - Kim Mok Kim-wing and his partner Yeung Yuk-wing, who guided him with a hand strap.

Mok, 48, is blind and Yeung is hearing-impaired. Both are members of the aptly named Fearless Dragon long-distance running team, which has about 25 members. About 15 have visual difficulties while the others are hearing- impaired.

On the track, one deaf runner is paired up with a blind runner to form a team, with the deaf one taking the lead to guide his or her blind mate.

Mok is a former blind athlete for Hong Kong and won a silver medal in the standing long jump in the Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled in 1984. With his rich experience in sport, Mok founded Fearless Dragons two years ago.

"Sport is not the ultimate goal; it is a way to provide a bridge between the disabled and the rest of society," he says.

The team keeps growing and setting higher targets. Last year, it took part in the 10-kilometer event of the Standard Chartered Marathon. However, this year Mok ran the full marathon. The distance of 42km is equal to that from Aberdeen to Lo Wu.

After practicing for two years, Mok can do it in five hours and 46 minutes.

Mok also co-founded the Hong Kong Blind Sports Association. He believes sports can help the disabled build up their confidence and engage with society. To this end he also organized golf and bowling for the disabled in the association.

Mok has devoted his life to helping other disabled people view their difficulties positively.

But he did not always view his own blindness so. He recalls a sense of desperation when he first lost his sight.

He says that when he was six years old, he was doing his homework when he suddenly realized he could not see out of his left eye. Then, at 13, he lost the sight of his other eye when a classmate accidentally bumped into him and his retina became detached.

Mok was devastated.

"There is a lyric in a song sang by Roman Tam that asks, why you?" Mok says. "Why me? I have two elder brothers and a younger brother - why am I the one to go blind and not them?"

 eing blind changed Mok's life completely, especially in his studies and when he was outside the house. He had to learn braille and listen to recordings to aid his learning and to adapt to the complete darkness.

 "You can easily imagine," he says. "If you have ever covered your eyes, you know that it is frightening to walk for 10 or more steps. Not just walking on a flat road, but also walking up and down the staircase, taking the MTR and buses."

 However, when he looks back on his life today, he is grateful for all the surprises his blindness has brought him.

 Mok pushed himself to become the first blind student to study information technology in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination in the 1980s, when the subject was still new. At the time, it seemed improbable that a blind student could take the exam. But Mok did not let his blindness affect his desire to try new things.

 He is reaping the rewards now as the IT knowledge he gained has inspired him to take part in developing new technologies for the disabled today.

 Mok believes his life has been full of blessings too. When he graduated from high school, he worked as a receptionist at a blind massage center. Then he worked as switchboard operator at the South China Morning Post.

In 1989, he joined Hong Kong Telecom's directory inquiry services. His salary jumped from HK$1,800 for his first job to HK$3,000 at the SCMP and HK$4,280 at Hong Kong Telecom. Few school-leavers manage to double their salary in the space of a few years.

 But Mok was not content to rest on his laurels.

 With the encouragement of a supervisor at Hong Kong Telecom, he decided to study social work at university at the age of 31. He is still grateful that he came across this supervisor in his life.

 "I have taken her advice and think that people should take one step forward to improve," Mok says.

 "She was not my mother or relative, but she cared about me.

 "She believed I could do better even when I didn't believe in myself."

 Although Mok is passionate about his social work, his first encounter with social workers was not a happy one.

 After he became blind, Mok's school social worker tried to counsel him by asking him whether he had heard about "winter melon people," a term referring to those born without limbs. He tried to convince Mok there were others who were worse off than him.

 "Telling me I'm not the most unfortunate but not giving me hope when I lost my sight was not the best way to help me," Mok says.

 Mok's impression of social workers changed when he met an intern social worker at the Ebenezer School and Home for the Visually Impaired, Pok Fu Lam. He still remembers how the intern tried to repair a radio for his best friend.

 "I thought, wow! This social worker is really nice. He's not just shooting the breeze with you or saying how you're not the most unfortunate."

 The sincerity of the social worker inspired Mok and made him realize that a good social worker who can think from the perspective of the needy can really help them. It was this principle that helped him complete his social work degree and graduate with first-class honours in 1998.

 Since then, he has devoted most of his time to developing new technology for the disabled and trying to get them out of their comfort zone.

 He is now working with the University of Hong Kong to develop software called E-guide. This is a controller for smartphones that can receive signals from transmitters set in shopping centers.

 The controller provides information about nearby shops to help the visually impaired navigate around shopping areas with greater convenience.

 He also wants to help the deaf to speak by developing a wireless speaker that will read out the words typed by the hearing-impaired.

 So other disabled people can experience the surprises and blessings that have enhanced his life, Mok is inviting the visually impaired to join Adventure- Ship, a sailing program organized by the Hong Kong Blind Sports Association, targeting youths with disabilities.

 And he is bracing himself for more adventure in November, when he will be a member of the first team of blind and deaf people to take part in Oxfam's Trailwalker. The 100km hike for charity is a gruelling test of strength and endurance.

 The team will comprise two blind and two deaf members from Fearless Dragon.

 Taking part in Oxfam Trailwalker is Mok's dream. He has no fear of the difficulties he may face in the race.

 "It may not be very difficult to fulfill your dream, but to keep putting in effort and persevering is the most difficult part," he says. "When you take one step forward, you will be one step nearer to your dream."

 An excerpt from the March edition of Varsity magazine published by the School of Journalism and Communication, Chinese University of Hong Kong.