Dis­abled keep hands on wheel

China Daily European Weekly - - Cover Story - By DAVID BLAIR and YAN DONGJIE

Do you think you could ride a bike 5,800 kilo­me­ters from the city of Xishuang­banna, in South­west China’s Yun­nan prov­ince, on the bor­der with Laos, to Bei­jing? Now imag­ine you could not use your legs but had to use the strength of your arms to travel that dis­tance, across many moun­tain ranges.

Wang Feng and Pan Yifei, from China, with Domonic Cor­ri­dan and Josh Do­minick, from the United States, left Xishuang­banna in April and ar­rived in Bei­jing 106 days later. Ex­cept for Josh, they are para­plegics — af­ter be­ing in­jured, they could no longer use their lower bod­ies. They rode hand cy­cles — tri­cy­cles pro­pelled en­tirely by hand-pow­ered cranks.

Wang Feng, who is from Zaozhuang, Shan­dong prov­ince, de­vel­oped acute myeli­tis when he was 15 years old, still in mid­dle school, and has been para­plegic ever since. But that has not stopped him. He works as a baby masseuse and has proved he can ac­com­plish things few fully able peo­ple dare.

“The trip from Xishuang­banna to Bei­jing was my long­est ride and my big­gest chal­lenge ever. Fin­ish­ing it gave me more con­fi­dence, as well as a bet­ter-built body. I won the 5,800 km, and won my­self,” he said. “For me, the big­gest mean­ing is that I came to know that noth­ing could beat me down. This is a mile­stone in my life. It’s en­cour­ag­ing and ex­cit­ing to know that I can travel far, like nor­mal peo­ple. I made it, and made my life.”

Pan Yifei was in­jured in 2015 in a car crash in the moun­tains near the Great Wall in Bei­jing. He can feel noth­ing be­low chest level. But he has al­ways been op­ti­mistic. When telling his story, he talks with hands wav­ing and eye­brows fly­ing, as if the in­ci­dent was a nor­mal part of his life.

On the third day af­ter leav­ing Xishuang­banna, com­ing down a moun­tain in the rain, his trike turned over and he flipped five times. He was stopped from sail­ing off a cliff only be­cause he hit an aban­doned truck. His right arm had a deep gash and he had to be taken to a hos­pi­tal. But Pan didn’t quit the trip. He fol­lowed the group in a chase van all the way to Bei­jing. He says: “I hope more dis­abled peo­ple can come out of their rooms and over­come ob­sta­cles — not only phys­i­cal but also in their hearts — and live a nor­mal life.”

Josh Do­minick is an able-bod­ied Amer­i­can who has lived in China for 16 years. He be­came in­ter­ested in help­ing peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties af­ter meet­ing his friend and fel­low rider Domonic Cor­ri­dan. Four years ago, he set up a group, Krankin Thru China, to in­tro­duce hand­cy­cles to dis­abled peo­ple.

The group doesn’t just do epic ad­ven­tures. It of­ten meets in Bei­jing to al­low lo­cal peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties to peo­ple to learn about hand­cy­cling.

On a re­cent Sun­day af­ter­noon, near Olympic For­est Park, two women, Lyu Xianglan and Guan Shil­ian, had huge smiles as they took their first hand­cy­cle rides.

Guan Shil­ian, who had po­lio, says: “It’s my first time ex­pe­ri­enc­ing this kind of bike. I never rode a bike be­fore — not even ever walked like a nor­mal per­son. It feels great when I can move in the di­rec­tion that I want to go and make my own way.”

Do­minick says he is hop­ing to de­velop a va­ri­ety of adap­tive sports that can be en­joyed by all peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. For ex­am­ple, he and Pan are plan­ning to go paraglid­ing in late Septem­ber in Luoyang, He­nan prov­ince. He says the goal is not re­ally cy­cling. “It’s hard for dis­abled peo­ple to move around and ex­er­cise, but I want to help them with that. When peo­ple have dis­abil­i­ties they tend to lose con­fi­dence, feel­ing that they can do noth­ing. But when they ride a bike, they will feel bet­ter and gain back the con­fi­dence to do more. They can live a con­fi­dent, happy and free life.”

He re­counts an episode when the group stopped at a wa­ter­fall in Guizhou prov­ince. The woman who at­tended the gate there did not want to let them in, de­spite their legal right to en­ter. She says: “Why are you out? Why don’t you just stay home?”

“A big prob­lem is that the gen­eral pub­lic does not en­cour­age dis­abled peo­ple to take part in nor­mal ac­tiv­i­ties. It needs to be nor­mal to see a per­son in a wheel­chair do­ing or­di­nary things — buy­ing gro­ceries, earn­ing a liv­ing, play­ing with their chil­dren. Hand­i­capped peo­ple need to earn a liv­ing,” he says.

Hand­cy­cling and other sports are a way for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties to gain self-con­fi­dence, but maybe also to show the rest of us how much can be ac­com­plished.


Josh Do­minick teaches Guan Shil­ian how to ride a hand­cy­cle in Bei­jing. Pan Yifei and Lyu Xianglan (right) are in the wheel­chairs in the back­ground.

Lyu Xianglan flashes a big smile dur­ing his first hand­cy­cle ride.


Wang Feng and Domonic Cor­ri­dan en route from Xishuang­banna to Bei­jing.

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