University student journeys through her father’s footsteps

A brotherhood in the least traditional sense teaches Myra lessons that guide her through residential hall life and beyond

Earphones in and the rest of the world tuned out, Myra was on her 38th and final kilometer. Her legs were in agonizing pain and every breath she took added to the fire she already had burning in her lungs. But she was almost there — and she couldn’t be prouder of herself for pushing through.

This was Myra two years ago. She was participating in the annual Round the Island race, one of the many traditions of her residential hall, St John’s College. But this isn’t just any old tradition established by a nameless face who once walked the corridors of the residence; it was started in 1984 by her father, who lived at St. John’s when he studied at the university thirty years ago.

“My father and I are ‘brothers’”, Myra laughed, referring to the hall’s affiliate system. Under it, residents currently residing and alumni who once lived on a particular floor are considered siblings.

Now in her fourth year studying arts and education, University of Hong Kong student Myra Lee can safely say that living at St. John’s has been an integral part of her undergraduate experience so far. She’s made close friendships with those living around her, led a hockey team to victory and collected fond memories of participating in the hall’s events — one of them being Round the Island.

“My father told me that he and his friends decided spontaneously to do a long distance run around Hong Kong one day. Word spread, and others liked the idea,” the 21-year-old said. “Somehow, it got passed down through the years and is one of our most well-known traditions today.”

According to Myra, Round the Island, or RTI for short, is an annual event where all first- and second-year students complete a 38-kilometre run around Hong Kong Island. All the funds raised are donated to local NGOs, adhering to St. John’s spirit of giving back. The race is held in early May every year, just when the city’s temperatures are starting to climb in time for the summer.

“It seemed impossible at the beginning,” Myra recalled. “I mean, running 38 kilometers around the whole Hong Kong Island in one day!”

While regular hockey training and practice runs leading up to the day kept Myra relatively active, nothing, she said, would prepare her for the race. The route took her through the hilly terrains of the Hong Kong countryside, which were merciless in the early summer heat.

But it wasn’t just about physical endurance; like many marathoners would say from experience, long-distance runs are a test of the mind, of how well one is able to push through what is perceived to be the body’s limit.

“It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, and I doubted myself so many times during it,” Myra said. “But the closer I got to the finish line, the more I realized that actually, I could do it.”

Her father’s role in creating this tradition made the whole experience especially bittersweet. Growing up, Myra’s father instilled in her the importance of persevering through hardship. To him, the process is more telling of what you are capable of than the end result. RTI was, in many ways, an embodiment of this spirit, and it made her recognize that her father’s well-intentioned advice comes from a place of experience.

“Living at St. John’s is like walking down his path, and it’s made me better appreciate the stories he tells me and the conversations that we have,” said Myra. “It’s also brought us closer together.”

It’s not just one-off events at St. John’s that have allowed Myra to witness personal growth and overcome new challenges. As the captain of the hall’s hockey team in her second year, Myra was in charge of everything from organizing practices to motivating fellow players when they were feeling discouraged.

The leadership role taught Myra the very essence of team sports. “No one is left out, and when we win, we win together as a team,” she said.

Considering how much living at St. John’s has shaped Myra’s university life, it’s hard to believe that this was never part of the plan. She had no intention to submit an application to live at the hall in the first place, and although Myra’s father had fond memories of his days at St John’s, he never once pressured her to apply.

“This is one thing I appreciate about my father,” said Myra. “He respects that I am my own person and doesn’t try to change my decisions.”

But on a whim, Myra signed up for an orientation camp at St. John’s when she got impatient waiting for the bus to another hall she meant to visit. She soon found that she liked the strong community values that St. John’s stood for, and the sense that she was getting a share of the experience her father spoke so fondly of when she was growing up motivated her to eventually join.

Most of Myra’s friends know who her father is, and when May — or “RTI season” — rolls around, they don’t let her off easy.

“They tease me jokingly that this ‘torture’ is all my dad’s fault,” Myra laughed. “It’s kind of funny. But beneath the humor, I’m grateful for all the lessons he and St. John’s have taught me.”