Photo credit: Ka Shing Ho
It is set to be a busy summer for Jane Cheung.
Recently making her international debut with Hong Kong’s Ultimate Frisbee side at the 5-day Asia Oceanic Regional Championship in Shanghai, she has a week of rest and preparation before embarking on her next campaign.
However, her second appearance for a national team in as many weeks calls for a slightly different skillset.
While the Ultimate is something she has grown to love, following a “painstakingly slow process” of learning and perfecting disc-throwing techniques, Cheung’s first love was for something more oval and physical.
Photo credit: Ironic Leung
Growing up on a steady diet of contact rugby, Cheung's sporting gifts were initially applied to both fifteens and sevens formats of the game - proving a versatile cog in the backline, she featured as a centre, fullback and winger, growing to relish the “spacing and steps” granted by those positions on the pitch.
However, weekends spent recuperating from all manner of aches and pains soon drove the then- 23-year-old into the arms of touch rugby, albeit for sorely-needed respite at first.
“I did love the game [Rugby union], the culture and the people, but it definitely takes a toll on the body," said Cheung.
"I figured I just wanted to not wake up every Sunday broken (since Saturdays were always game days) and so I started playing touch on the side."
While feats of raw athleticism and elusive sidesteps are major selling points in touch rugby to outsiders, Cheung's seasoned outlook instead leads her to a greater sense of appreciation for the less glamorous art of defending.
"Playing defence at such a high speed game is incredible it’s no longer the ability of one individual’s ability to react to another player’s move, but it’s watching how all six people on the pitch work together to closing down the easy options and forcing the opposition into doing the more difficult move."
"The satisfaction of saving the try or forcing the error is such an adrenaline rush. Touch at a basic level can be an individual sport, but the beauty of it for me really lies on the team level."
Photo credit: Morris Leung
Since making the full, "inevitable" transition from contact to touch rugby, the 28-year-old has become a key part of the Hong Kong select squad and will pull on the Bauhinia-adorned jersey once more in the upcoming ANZ International Touch Championship.
The next stage for Cheung is to settle into more of a mentoring role - a decision perhaps partly influenced by her coach Laurent Villemeur, who has represented France at the highest level of touch rugby.
"To be really honest, I’ve already achieved more than I imagined I could in terms of my own personal Touch career," said Cheung.
Photo credit: T8 Touch Football Club
"I started playing relatively late at the age of 23 and yet had the unbelievable opportunity to train with and even represent the Hong Kong team at the age of 27."
"What I really want to achieve in terms of touch rugby is to inspire. I really hope that people understand that there isn’t just one type of person best suited to this sport, but a whole range of people where together, they can be an unstoppable team."
Very much a late-bloomer in her journey to becoming a national-level sportswoman, perhaps Cheung's greatest strength lies not just in managing to excel at two highly-competitive disciplines, but instead a willingness to reinvent herself as an athlete. Even it it means giving up on a sport she still loves to this day.