Amy Chan’s golden mile
It’s been a long, non-stop race for Amy Chan, who often works 12-hour days. She goes to monitor the training of apprentice jockeys at 6:30am and leaves the school at 7pm or 8pm, after dinner with her wards.
“We provide the meals so that we can ensure their healthy diet. I love to stay with them and have a casual chat,” says the headmistress of the Apprentice Jockeys’ School of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, and manager of the Racing Development Board. “It is a 24-hour hostel and I want to make sure everything is fine.”
Chan wears other different hats, such as her work in the rehabilitation advisory committee, and various government appointments.
Being busy is nothing new to this former world badminton ace, who had to divide her time between her training and studies from the age of 12 until she got her teaching certificate from the Northcote College of Education, formerly based in Pok Fu Lam and is now part of the Hong Kong Institute of Education in Tai Po.
Despite the pressure, Chan was still able to collect medals at international badminton competitions, including the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics.
Keen on earning her teaching certificate, Chan refused to give up her studies and even started work before deciding to go professional from 1986 to 1990, when she stopped playing professionally.
“It is important to plan your life after sports. My transition was very good. I had a farewell match where everybody knew that I finished [with the sport] and I never looked back,” she says.
Chan applied to go to the US for post-graduate studies and, while waiting, spent the next five months visiting 60 schools and giving motivational talks to students.
In her overseas studies sponsored by the Hong Kong Sports Institute (HKSI), Chan took up physical education, including management courses, health management and wellness. Upon her return to HKSI, she was tasked with starting a department as commercial operations manager to help make the institute financially viable.
“I applied what I learned in the US to earn money for the HKSI and started up clubs for swimming, squash, tennis and badminton, which [people could join] for a monthly fee,” she says. “It was a very tough three years, but I was pleased with the turnover.”
With the programmes humming along, Chan looked for another challenge, this time as athletes’ affairs manager at the Hong Kong Sports Development Board.
At the time, most Hong Kong parents thought there was no future for their children as athletes, so many talented kids had to drop out of sporting programmes. Chan’s job was to create a more attractive future for athletes so that Hong Kong could capture more sporting talent. She also had to ensure athletes did well in their studies.
“You can’t be a good athlete if you don’t have the skills set to handle other things in life,” says Chan, whose priority was to help athletes meet the requirements for university entry, then to persuade universities to accept them.
“Athletes have so much determination. You don’t find this very often in people – except maybe in musicians. They are good at team work, persevering and ready to face adversity – their qualities are very suitable for university life. In the US, most CEOs are good athletes,” she says.
A pilot programme was started at The University of Hong Kong and soon all universities were taking in athletes. As a result, sports became more attractive as it was a good way of gaining university entry.
But Chan wasn’t finished yet. In her subsequent job with the Hong Kong Jockey Club, she was instrumental in the development of jockey training. “Getting in [the profession] used to be not very open – the master introduced the apprentice without any proper system,” Chan explains.
With more transparency and openness, she managed to change to image of the school. She also created a more holistic approach to the programme, which gives apprentices life skills, overseas training and qualifications with accredited programmes.
For instance, their farrier, or hoof care, programme has just received accreditation, while that for stipendiary steward (race judge) is pending.
“The boys and girls are very polite. They have a very good attitude, I hope they will have the same attitude when they get into the stable environment,” Chan says.
In her free time, Chan still loves to play sports, goes to concerts and appreciates the time she can spend with her family and friends.