Sam Ngan Shu-sum decided to quit smoking the moment he stood on a rostrum to receive a prize at a sports event.
After taking the bronze at the Duathlon Series in Hong Kong in September 2017, the then 15-year-old – who had already been a smoker for two years at that point – was eager to boost his stamina to improve in sport.
“I believed I could do better,” Ngan, now 19, recalled, adding that he had struggled while training for the event, which combines running and cycling, and requires a high level of physical strength.
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He had found himself out of breath during races, and realised it was time he kicked the unhealthy habit.
Since then, the aspiring social worker, who later chose to focus on cycling as his main sport, has grown to believe that people can change their fate.
Raised in a single-parent household, Ngan did not spend much quality time with his mother or siblings, preferring to spend his time on the streets hanging around with members of youth gangs when he was still in junior secondary school.
Influenced by his peers, Ngan began smoking and misbehaving himself. As a juvenile, he was once arrested for assault, and was subsequently placed on a protection order and supervised by a social worker.
He felt lost at the time, but things changed after he transferred to a new school on the advice of his mother and a social worker.
At the Society of Boys’ Centres Hui Chung Sing Memorial School in Sham Shui Po, Ngan was encouraged to try different extracurricular activities.
“As I fell in love with sport, I also became more interested in my studies,” he said.
Ngan went on to become a winner of the Post’s Student of the Year Award for Best Improvement in 2018.
After finishing secondary school, Ngan began studying social work at Soochow University in Taiwan.
Inspired by social worker Lai Ka-wing who helped him through his lowest point in life, Ngan also hopes to enter the profession – though he did give some thought to pursuing a career as a professional athlete.
“I want to help young people who have gone astray like I did,” he explained.
His efforts to overcome personal adversity has earned him a nomination from Fung Wai-wah of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union for this year’s Spirit of Hong Kong Awards.
The annual event, co-organised by the South China Morning Post and property developer Sino Group, celebrates the achievements of remarkable people whose endeavours may otherwise go unnoticed.
Ngan was recommended for this year’s Spirit of Perseverance award, which recognises individuals who have, against the odds, overcome personal challenges to succeed.
The social work student said he believed many at-risk youngsters could turn over a new leaf if only given the chance.
“I hope to use my own experience to help them,” Ngan said.
He added that he was thankful for the ample support he received from his Sham Shui Po alma mater, especially the guidance of Lai Pui-yi, who led the cycling group at the institution.
Ngan said Lai taught him it was important to persevere.
“When you have found something you want to do, just do it,” he said.
“You will find you have come a long way when you look back later.”
This article Former wayward Hong Kong youth has kicked bad habits, persevered on way to becoming social worker first appeared on South China Morning Post