Spirit of Hong Kong Award: badminton player beats cancer as a child to compete as para-athlete

Calista Lam Tsz-huen at eight years old set her sights on becoming a professional badminton player for Hong Kong, only to find herself battling bone cancer two years later.

Lam, now 28, recalled undergoing 28 rounds of chemotherapy and having her left shoulder bone replaced with a metal one after her 14th treatment session.

She was finally discharged from hospital 1½ years after her diagnosis, but her dream of becoming an athlete felt out of reach.

“The metal bone in my left arm posed challenges and made simple tasks, like raising my hand or clapping, difficult, let alone participating in activities such as playing badminton,” she said.

Calista Lam says overcoming challenges has made her stronger. Photo: Calista Lam Tsz-huen

But her mum convinced her not to give up and encouraged her to join a para-badminton team.

The decision eventually led Lam to meet an inspirational coach and prompted her to become a member of the Hong Kong Disabled Badminton Team in 2017. A year later, she won a bronze medal in a singles event at the Asian Para Games.

The athlete is a finalist in the Spirit of Perseverance category for this year’s Spirit of Hong Kong Awards, an annual event co-organised by the South China Morning Post and property developer Sino Group that honours the achievements of remarkable individuals whose endeavours may otherwise go unnoticed.

Looking back, the athlete said she underwent intensive training and struggled with health issues in the run-up to the regional sports tournament in 2018.

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“I faced a setback during my training for the 2018 Asian Para Games when the internal components of my metal bone broke not once, but twice,” she said.

“The doctors were quite shocked when they saw the extent of the damage and advised me to stop playing. But I just told myself I wouldn’t let this setback define me.”

Despite undergoing another round of surgery to repair the damaged metal bone, Lam remained undeterred and went on to bag the bronze.

“Even to this day, as I continue to play badminton, I rely on a belt to secure my waist, stabilising my left hand which lacks the same mobility and adaptability as my right hand,” she said.

“Badminton requires a lot of balance, so having my left hand immobilised poses difficulties. However, I believe that overcoming these challenges will only make me stronger and more determined to succeed in the sport.”

The injury was far from the last that Lam suffered. She broke a ligament in her left leg while playing in the Dubai Para-Badminton International, resulting in her knee becoming immobilised.

Winning is a “memorable experience” for Calista Lam. Photo: Handout

The athlete was flown home for surgery and later vowed to work out regularly at the gym to strengthen her muscles to better protect her knees.

Lam last year decided to compete for Australia and has carried on training. She went on to win a silver medal in the singles and a bronze in the doubles during the FOX’S Indonesia Para Badminton International in September of that year.

“Winning is definitely a memorable experience for me,” she said.

“However, what truly struck me during my journey in para-games is witnessing the sheer dedication and perseverance of fellow para-athletes who face even greater mobility challenges than I do.”

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