Hong Kong’s ‘Spider Girl’
People call her the ‘Spider Girl’, not just because she’s an excellent rock climber (winning Asian and world rock climbing championships), but also for the fact that she has ‘outstretched her legs’ into other sports and unrelated fields, such as coaching and acting.
A six-time winner of the Hong Kong Bodybuilding Championships, Lisa Cheng Lai-sho is unusually lithe for her discipline. She’s far from heavily built and her frame shows little visible muscle. “It’s because I compete in the fitness and figure categories, which focus on shaping the body,” she explains.
Growing up in a low income family, Cheng was something of a lost teenager. “I wasn’t extremely bad, but I did smoke, drink and fool around. I sneaked out of home to join my friends in bars while my parents were sleeping. I never really liked bars; I just wanted to do what my friends were doing.”
It was rock climbing that changed her life. “I joined a rock climbing event held by the community centre when I was 12 and I was the only girl among the competitors, and the fastest to reach the top. Everybody applauded. I was struck by a strong sense of accomplishment. Suddenly I realised this was what I must do, and what I could do well.”
Through the following decade, Cheng won almost 20 rock climbing competitions, including the 2006 International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation Climbing World Cup, which made her the first Chinese female champion in the world. She has even competed in Cheung Chau’s famous, much-loved Bun Tower competition. That was easy, of course.
A highly independent athlete, Cheng owes all her achievements to her self-motivation: “When I entered the Hong Kong National Sport Climbing Team, one coach had to train over a dozen team members. I knew I could depend on myself.” To improve, she set up all sorts of self-training programmes. “Every time I won a competition, I was proud of myself,” she says.
At 19, she took a three-year diploma in sports management at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education, followed by a bachelor degree in the same field. “I had a hard time catching up with my studies,” she remembers. “I didn’t know much about English, plus the textbooks were extremely difficult for me. But I hate to start something without finishing it. Once I choose a road, I must walk until the end.” After three years’ studying, she managed to graduate ‘with medium scores and no fails’.
A comprehensive knowledge of sports theories has helped Cheng learn and excel in many different athletic arenas. She already has 10 coach licences under her belt, such as fitness training, rock climbing, gymnastics, boxing, Muay Thai, aerobics and belly dancing.
One of Cheng’s teachers was a member of the Hong Kong China Bodybuilding Association committee. He suggested she try body fitness, thus starting her unstoppable success over the following six years. “I like arts, and I feel it interesting to turn myself into a piece of art. At the same time, it’s relatively easy to win a fitness competition if you have a strong will, perseverance and know the judging standards.” It’s no surprise that Cheng ‘easily’ became the first Hong Kong representative to win the World Bodybuilding Championship in 2010.
Still, Cheng is all too aware that her athletic life is limited by her age: “I enjoy being an athlete, representing Hong Kong and winning competitions, but this is almost my past. I won’t do this forever.” She tells Time Out she would like to participate in fewer competitions in 2012, and will spend more time acting. Since 2008, she has been a television host and actress. Late last year, she played an important part in the non-verbal physical comedy Beating the Classroom. Can acting awards be on the near horizon?
“My next goal is to be a successful action movie actress,” she says. “I also want to start my own business, to have my own brand, my own restaurant … I want to have a happy family because it’s important to share my happiness with a husband and children.” Judging from her tone, we think she’ll have it all. Shirley Zhao