Keeping Eyes On the Target

Edith Lee has experienced serious heartbreaks when she narrowly missed out on qualifying for world-class archery competitions not only once, but twice. The computer science student, who is one of the city’s top recurve bow archers, is now taking her gap year before resuming her final year study in September, after her disqualification for the World University Championships and the Asian Games.

Edith studied science subjects in secondary school but she admits she was never a top student, so had never dreamed of studying in a university. But in order to follow her idol Korean archer Ki Bo Bae’s path to compete in the World University Archery Championships, she studied extremely hard and was admitted to HKUST in 2015.

Qualifying for the World University Archery Championships in 2017 didn’t seem to be that difficult but she missed it. The disappointment hit her hard. She was later eyeing for the Asian Games in 2018. But once again, the game did not go as planned, she was not qualified.

It only took a short while for Edith to feel sorry for herself. Her resilience and can-do spirit is the poignant resemblance of HKUST’s core values. HKUST has been advocating trial and error and encouraging students to take bold steps to pursue their dreams.

Her humble family background also has a role to play. Growing up in a working-class family of five children in Tin Shui Wai, Edith pays for archery consumables and attending overseas competitions out of her own pocket. Equipment is expensive, especially top-quality arrows which cost around HK$3,500 for a dozen. She has to earn money from archery coaching classes and works part-time in the IT field.

“It is extraordinarily challenging to compete athletically at a high level in Hong Kong without financial support,” remarks Edith. Funding from HKUST such as Alumni Endowment Fund has greatly elevated her stress for not being able to attend the tournaments due to financial shortage.

In addition to the financial support, the faculty and academic departments, as well as the administrative offices, have done all they could to support Edith’s archery career, she says. From rescheduling midterm exams to changing assignment deadlines, the school has taken steps to ensure she is able to compete in crucial overseas tournaments without fear of derailing her academic obligations.
The professors, meanwhile, are delighted to support her not just academically, but holistically as a person. Edith singles out Dr. Desmond Tsoi of Computer Science who’s been a rock-solid pillar of support. Edith says, “Professor Tsoi supported my athletic endeavors, and more importantly, gave me a wealth of advice on major life and career decisions.” Unlike other people, Prof. Tsoi supported her decision on taking a gap year because he’s certain Edith knew how she wanted to walk her path as a student and an archer.

As one of the few female students in the engineering school, Edith feels privileged to be in a male-dominated class where her classmates would spare no effort to make sure she understands the subjects. She admits there’s no gender difference in the ways they study engineering, rather she particularly likes programming.

Asked about her own personal strategies to cope with the busy schedules between her studies and the demands of competitive archery, Edith believes the studying and archery actually complement each other well. “I’m not the sort that can sit in a chair to study for hours on end, so archery practices—which many consider boring—offer the perfect break for me,” she explains.

HKUST emphasizes holistic education in addition to professional development and it is doing everything it can to help student athletes such as Edith. In partnership with the Hong Kong Sports Institute, the university will launch the Student Athletes Admission Scheme (SAAS) this September that offers tuition scholarships and living expenses. Furthermore, admitted students may have their degree program extended up to six years. 

“I have no doubt this will be a game changer for many young Hong Kong student athletes who come from socio-economic backgrounds similar to mine,” Edith says. “Though I’m not its beneficiary, we student athletes have contributed lots and the university understands our struggles. Now it’s the time for the incoming student athletes to reap the fruits.”

In the meantime, Edith is determined to continue to strike targets with her bow and arrows. Many young sportspeople would have given up after multiple losses, so how has she persevered? Edith comments, “Most elite athletes take up a sport with the ambition of becoming a champion, and when they fail to win, they collapse psychologically because they don’t have something else to fall back on. In my case, I want to win as much as anyone else, but more than anything, I simply enjoy archery as it is.”

Now that is the heart of a champion, and she wants to stand up from where she fell: the World University Championships in 2021 and the Asian Games in 2022.