Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

The wonder of Yu: Paralympic fencer's power of positivity

By Chris Murphy, CNN
March 27, 2013 -- Updated 1323 GMT (2123 HKT)
Hong Kong's Paralympic fencing champion
Hong Kong's Paralympic fencing champion
Hong Kong's Paralympic fencing champion
Hong Kong's Paralympic fencing champion
Hong Kong's Paralympic fencing champion
Hong Kong's Paralympic fencing champion
Hong Kong's Paralympic fencing champion
Hong Kong's Paralympic fencing champion
Hong Kong's Paralympic fencing champion
Hong Kong's Paralympic fencing champion
Hong Kong's Paralympic fencing champion
Hong Kong's Paralympic fencing champion
Hong Kong's Paralympic fencing champion
Hong Kong's Paralympic fencing champion
  • Fencer Alison Yu Chui Yee has seven Paralympic gold medals to her name
  • The 28-year-old from Hong Kong had part of her leg amputated when she was 11
  • Yu says she forgot to strike a signature pose after winning gold in London
  • Yu: "I think the most important thing for your life, is the way you interpret things"

CNN's Human to Hero series screens on World Sport at 1700 GMT (1200 ET) and 2230 GMT every Wednesday, and 0500 GMT Thursdays.

(CNN) -- The only tinge of regret Alison Yu Chui Yee has from another prodigious Paralympic campaign is that she didn't take a leaf out of Usain Bolt's book.

Another two fencing gold medals at London 2012 took her tally to seven overall, enhancing her reputation of one of Hong Kong's greatest ever Paralympians, and she had planned to premiere her very own signature pose at the apex of her latest triumph.

But the 28-year-old, who jokes she only took up fencing because she was promised there would be plenty of "handsome guys" on show, missed the chance to showcase her own version of the Jamaican sprinter's move because she was too immersed in battle.

Hong Kong's Paralympic fencing champion
The girl with the dancing horse
Lorenzo: Motorcycling is like dancing

"I watched the Beijing Olympics and saw so many champions when they won try to do so many signature postures," she told CNN's Human to Hero series.

Read: Motorbike champ Lorenzo dances with danger

"I did think 'What should I do if I get the gold medal in Beijing? Should I kiss the blade or hug the coach?'

"Finally (when I) knew that I won, I just took off my mask with a facial expression that my friend said looked like I had just woken up because I was still concentrating!"

Her celebrations might need some work but Yu's pedigree in the noble art of fencing is indisputable.

Diagnosed with bone cancer in her left leg at the age of 11, Yu eventually had to have part of it removed. After making the move to fencing from swimming, she was instantly transfixed, rising through the ranks to make her Olympic debut at Athens, Greece, in 2004, aged just 20.

The sport, based on attack and defense with swords, has a heritage that some claim dates back as far as 1200 BC, due to the discovery of several ancient Egyptian carvings detailing duels involving combatants with blades and wearing masks for protection.

Read: 'Girl with the dancing horse'

After being enticed along to her first lesson by a friend who promised a bevy of attractive men to look at, Yu was transfixed.

"In the very first lesson, I didn't see any handsome guys but I felt fencing was so cool because the costume is all in white and you have to wear a mask. It's just so mysterious. It reminded me of the movie 'The Mask of Zorro.'

"After that I found fencing does not only have a good appearance, but also the strategy and the technique is very interesting. You have to use your physical strength together with your mental strength. I think it is so challenging and I love it."

Judo champion towers over opponents
Human to Hero: Ted Ligety

Fencing remains one of only four sports to have featured in every modern Olympic Games since 1896 but Yu's first thought when she arrived at the world's biggest sporting event at the age of 20 was about hamburgers, not history.

"I was so excited," she explained. "Everything was just so new to me.

"I heard there's a restaurant open 24 hours and a fast food shop which you can take all the food that you want free of charge. I couldn't wait to eat so many hamburgers!"

Read: Judo giant - 'Celine Dion puts me in the zone'

That excitement was also transmitted to Yu's performance as she bagged a gold medal in all four of her events in 2004, both as an individual and as part of the Hong Kong team in the epee and foil categories, which use different blades and scoring systems.

Wheelchair fencing sees athletes compete in a chair that is fixed into a frame and fastened to the floor. Points are scored by landing a blow with the tip of your sword on an opponent in epee and foil.

Yu excelled in both fields of combat.

She's taken part in nine fencing events in her Paralympic career to date winning seven golds, one silver and one bronze.

After the relative disappointment of winning only one gold in Beijing, where she had to settle for silver in the epee, Yu bounced back to win both her individual events at London 2012 despite a difficult preparation working with a new coach -- during which she had contemplated quitting the sport.

Tiny island makes football history
How Nicola Adams punched her way to gold

"I was so depressed. I'm quite an optimistic girl, and I can hardly imagine that I cried a lot at that time. After training I would just go back to the room and cry because I didn't know what I was doing and the training atmosphere was just not very good."

However, cheered by her teammates and helped with her training by able-bodied fencing colleagues, she got back in the groove and had a successful Games, also winning bronze in a team event.

"When I came back, I just bought them a very big meal and shared my happiness with them."

Yu's record makes her one of Hong Kong's most successful Paralympians, and that fact leaves her bursting with pride.

"Whenever I see the Hong Kong flag is flying in the sky, not because of anybody else, because of my efforts, I think it's the most proud time of my life," Yu said.

"I was the first female fencer in Hong Kong who captured four gold medals in the Paralympic Games (in Athens).

"When I came back to Hong Kong, so many reporters and journalists were waiting for us and interviewing us, and I thought 'Wow, I just looked like a Hollywood star!'

"I am so proud of being a Paralympian because I think the Games are a very good platform for disabled persons to perform themselves.

I did think 'What should I do if I got the gold medal in Beijing? Should I kiss the blade or hug the coach?'
Alison Yu Chui Yee

"Within the Paralympics movement, it's not just talk about excellence, it's not just talk about the competition, it's also talk about the equality and how your world accepts those disabled people."

Yu's infectious character explains why she's had little difficulty in overcoming the treacherous obstacles that were placed in front of her at such an early age.

A dedicated, passionate athlete, away from fencing she is relentlessly positive, something that has driven her through cancer and onto a clutch of gold medals.

"When I had bone cancer, I was just 11 years old. I think my parents suffered a lot because they worried about my health, my life, so much," she said.

"For me, it was quite bad feeling during the treatment. But I quite enjoyed staying in the hospital because so many kids played with me.

"Every time when I talk about this memory, my mom scolds me because she says, 'Come one, no one like hospital life, only you.'

"I think the most important thing for your life is the way you interpret things. Having an optimistic point of view is so important -- your life will be so bright."

Part of complete coverage on
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Olof Mellberg never lived out his childhood tennis fantasy, but he did achieve something millions of football fans around the world can only imagine.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1039 GMT (1839 HKT)
Sweden's former captain Olof Mellberg on his international career, the World Cup and enjoying the game more with age.
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1117 GMT (1917 HKT)
If you're aiming to land a top job at the world's most famous financial district, it might help to take up a sport -- but perhaps not the one you're thinking of.
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
He travels in private jets and is one of the world's highest-paid athletes, but Fernando Alonso does not forget his humble beginnings.
March 27, 2014 -- Updated 1211 GMT (2011 HKT)
Being blind has not stopped Verity Smith. The singer has starred on stage and written a book -- but she's most at home on a horse.
March 19, 2014 -- Updated 1534 GMT (2334 HKT)
Tai Woffinden's arms, hands, face, neck and shoulders are adorned with tattoos. But most revealing is the portrait of his late father on his back.
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
He established himself as one of the most famous American players in European basketball history -- and is still cooking up a storm.
March 5, 2014 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
Sebastien Foucan has proved even more elusive than his acrobatic bomb-maker who was eventually blown away in "Casino Royale."
February 26, 2014 -- Updated 1435 GMT (2235 HKT)
Imagine hurtling down a mountain at 60 miles an hour. Now imagine doing it virtually blind. For Kelly Gallagher, it's a thrilling reality.
February 19, 2014 -- Updated 1945 GMT (0345 HKT)
Having suffered bitter disappointment on the running track, Jana Pittman is finding peace on ice at the Winter Games in Sochi.
February 12, 2014 -- Updated 1341 GMT (2141 HKT)
Sochi is preparing for an Olympic invasion -- but perhaps it didn't expect a former Soviet soldier to be leading the charge.
February 6, 2014 -- Updated 1308 GMT (2108 HKT)
The words no athlete wants to hear: "You can't ski anymore. Racing is finished for you." But, luckily for her, Fanny Smith refused to believe her doctor.
January 29, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
"Blood was coming out of every hole in my body and I was completely unconscious," says French daredevil Xavier de Le Rue.
January 22, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jenna McCorkell has been dancing on a knife edge since first representing her country at the age of 10. "How ice skating is evolving, it's insane."
January 16, 2014 -- Updated 2204 GMT (0604 HKT)
As power couples go, Gerard Pique and Shakira have the sparkle to supersede even Posh and Becks. But a bundle of joy means most to them.