The Hong Kong running club where the deaf lead the blind, Fearless Dragon is creating a more inclusive society

2022-09-19

The Hong Kong running club where the deaf lead the blind, Fearless Dragon is creating a more inclusive society


Hong Kong's Fearless Dragon club is pioneering running for the disabled, with deaf guides leading blind runners

‘Now, more disabled people believe. They see that I am the slowest in the team, but I finished, I did not give up,” says co-founder Kim Mok

Disability


Kim Mok Kim-wing stood on his own in the crowd at the starting line for the Hong Kong Standard Chartered Marathon 10-kilometre race in 2012. He was not supposed to be alone, but he had lost his guide.

Mok, a blind runner, was taking part in his first race. He planned to complete the distance with a guide next to him, leading the way. But his guide had gone to the toilet, and the pair could not find each other again.

“I didn't feel annoyed or angry. I just shouted loudly, ‘Where are you? Where are you?’ I forgot he was deaf,” Mok said.


The 55-year-old is one of the founders of the Fearless Dragon Running Club. It started in 2011 and was one of the first clubs for blind runners in Hong Kong, but with a difference – the guides are deaf.


Showing confidence in people with hearing impairments is as much at the core of the club’s mission as training blind runners. In fact, Fearless Dragon is a pun and in Cantonese it sounds like “blind” and “deaf” – “maang” and “lung”.

When the club started, there were just six pairs of runners. Mok’s entry into the 10km was one of the club’s first into any event. For Mok, it was the furthest he’d ever run. They missed their start window but were determined to finish so when he and his guide finally found each other they ran the 10km anyway, unofficially.


In 2022, there are around 50 pairs of runners in Fearless Dragon, and they meet every Thursday at Hammer Hill Sports Ground in Diamond Hill. 


In 2022, there are around 50 pairs of runners, and they meet every Thursday at Hammer Hill Sports Ground in Diamond Hill. The club has countless members who have finished 10 kms, half marathons and marathons. Mok has finished 10 and completed the 100km Oxfam Trail walker twice, in Hong Kong and Brussels.


Mok says he is teased about being the slowest runner on Earth. But he always finishes his races.

More than 40 years ago, after losing his sight at the age of 13, he competed for Hong Kong at the equivalent of a para-Asian Games in the 60m dash and standing long jump. So, while athletic, long-distance running does not come easily.

“In order to convince my friends, disabled people, the public, I ran these marathons,” Mok said. “Now, more disabled people believe. They see I am the slowest in the team, but I finished, I did not give up. They are stronger than me, so now they believe.”


Fearless Dragon now has a number of fully abled guide runners too. This is for safety when running on busy roads, but also to facilitate a crossover between disabled and abled communities.

This is because the club’s aim is not just to complete marathons, but to create a more inclusive society and empower its deaf and blind runners.


“We want to restore their self-confidence to interact with society, and so they are not only living in a disabled ‘village’,” Mok said. “Traditionally, they only felt comfortable talking with people with disabilities. Now, they go out, for dinner, for drinks. They request for the guide runners to take them to Lan Kwai Fong [Hong Kong’s bar and club district].”


The first decade of the club’s existence has been a steep learning curve. Since Mok first lost his guide in 2012, they now have a robust communication system through WhatsApp, some sign language and intuition. The pairs do not separate at the start at all, even to go to the toilet.


“As time went we tested communication, the sounds of silence, talking without speaking, listening without hearing,” Mok said.

One challenge for blind runners is knowing how far they have travelled. Mok asks his guides to tap him, so he knows how many kilometres they have passed. One tap for 1km, two taps for 2km, and so on.

“It became quite time consuming. At 30km, he’d tap my knee 30 times,” Mok said, laughing.


Initially, one of the barriers to recruitment was the responsibility placed on the guides. Firstly, the guide has to be about 20 to 30 per cent faster than the runner, so they can adjust their pace to meet that of the runner and not slow them down.

“And they worry they have the responsibility for the blind person. If they fall? Do they have the responsibility if they die? They don’t know that blind people can do what they do. One by one, 10k, half marathon, full marathon, we do what we do,” Mok said.


The club has entered marathons and races all over the world, including Japan, Australia, Singapore, Brussels, and in the mainland China cities of Qingdao, Guangzhou, and Hangzhou.


And with them, they bring their experience. Fearless Dragon has helped found clubs for blind and deaf runners on the mainland.

Fearless Dragon was the first of its kind in Hong Kong and now there are more than 200 blind people who receive marathon training for various organisations in Hong Kong.

“I am so proud that we are not only a running team. We are doing charity, by way of providing running as a means to make a contribution to society,” Mok said. “I hope the general public see; we are not just disabled runners. We are abled disabled runners.”


Source: https://www.scmp.com/sport/hong-kong/article/3192999/hong-kong-running-club-where-deaf-lead-blind-fearless-dragon

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