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Hong Kong rhythmic gymnastics representative Alice Cheng Lai-chun is a HKMU graduate, an elite athlete of the Hong Kong Sports Institute, as well as a national-level athlete. This key player of the Hong Kong team only started learning rhythmic gymnastics at the age of ten, which was considered a bit late, and her body’s agility and future possibilities were once questioned. Going against all odds and objections, Alice’s coach who discovered her potential when she was 11, decided to nurture Alice and help her embark on a professional path. Now a three-time individual all-around title holder of the Hong Kong Open Championships and a first prize winner of the 2016 National Youth Championships, Alice has proven her coach right with sweat and tears. She has also got impressive results in multiple events in the first Rhythmic Gymnastics Asian Cup. 

How far can you go for rhythmic gymnastics?

In competitions gymnasts perform routines stylishly, making apparatuses seem like parts of their bodies as they throw and catch them with full confidence. Such aesthetic and technical perfection is no doubt the result of years of hard work. Before her turn in every competition, Alice would face the wall and go over the whole routine with music in her mind. As a result, her moves during the competition would be in line with her thoughts. She explained, ‘I needed to stay focused. Once I had decided to do my best, I could act as if I were in “no man’s land”.’ And Alice cared more about outperforming herself than her competitors. ‘I compared myself with my old self, and I wanted to do better than before,’ she affirmed sincerely.

Her journey has not been smooth sailing. Alice recalled that after completing HKDSE, she had thought of retirement. ‘At that time, I planned to become a full-time athlete but failed, so I resolutely went to Taiwan for training at my own expense. Although I practised for nine hours a day, I couldn’t see any improvements on my performance,’ she sighed. However, she did not give up and persevered, and returned to the forefront of later competitions. ‘I always remind myself that I can move further, which has become a driving force for me to achieve better results.’

Alice has twice represented Hong Kong in the National Games. This year she was on her own and only one step short of making it to the final. ‘There had been no competition for two years under the pandemic. This time, after 21 days of quarantine, I panicked and felt so helpless when I was in the stadium that I couldn’t help crying,’ she recounted. Alice has since regained her composure and now looks forward to next year’s competitions.

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Get prepared for the future

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As an enthusiastic gymnast, Alice has never neglected her studies and actively plans for the future. She chose HKMU’s Sports and Recreation Management programme because of its wide variety of courses. Taking a long-term view, she went on to study for a master’s degree in social sciences after graduation to gain more knowledge in areas other than sports. Alice has balanced sports and studies with good time management over the years, and she could even do revision and warm-up exercises simultaneously. ‘I could manage my studies, training and several part-time jobs at the same time,’ she said cheerfully.

In the past, competitions seldom clashed with classes, except for the 2019 Universiade which took place during the UK immersion programme arranged by her School. Alice eventually decided to withdraw from the competition. ‘What a pity! But the study tour was really exciting and fulfilling,’ she stressed. Alice has lots of wonderful memories of her campus life, and she enjoyed talking about them. ‘I was once injured and had to walk with crutches, but my classmates carried me on their backs one after another to class,’ she recounted with pleasure.

Passion remains strong before retirement

Seeing teammates and younger peers left the team one by one over the years, Alice hopes that the new generation will not give up easily and encourages parents to let their children participate in sports. ‘Sports can boost willpower, and relax the body and mind. We can improve our interpersonal skills when we train with others under the guidance of a coach, even more than in a classroom.’

Rhythmic gymnasts generally retire in their early twenties. ‘I’m 24 years old and already a veteran!’ she said with a laugh. Although Alice has planned to retire in the coming year, she still hopes to shine one last time in a competition. She is now working hard to qualify for the Chengdu Universiade and the Hangzhou Asian Games next year, hoping to conclude her decade-long athletic career with a perfect ending. Departure brings sadness inevitably. ‘Fighting alongside my coach for 13 years, she is like a mother to me,’ she emphasized. Yet Alice looks forward to a new stage of life, and hopes to take up management or administrative work in the future.