The need for speed

Skater teaches dis­abled to roll with the punches

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By TIAN XUEFEI in Qi­taihe, Hei­long jiang, and ZHOU HUIYING in Harbin Con­tact the writ­ers at zhouhuiy­ing@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Ev­ery time a team mem­ber calls her “Mother Coach”, Zhang Jie gets a warm feel­ing in­side.

“They are like my own chil­dren — they are my pride and joy,” Zhang said.

The team con­sists of 26 mem­bers who have dis­or­ders in­clud­ing Down syndrome, autism, at­ten­tion deficit hy­per­ac­tiv­ity dis­or­der, men­tal dis­tur­bance, in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity or hear­ing dis­tur­bance.

Dur­ing the 11th Spe­cial Olympics World Win­ter Games in Aus­tria in March, three mem­bers of the team won a to­tal of four gold medals and two sil­ver medals.

This achievement came just two and a half years after Zhang founded a Spe­cial Olympics short-track speed­skat­ing team in Qi­taihe in Oc­to­ber 2014, which she de­cided to coach on a vol­un­tary ba­sis.

Zhang, 46, was born in Qi­taihe, North­east China’s Hei­longjiang province, and be­gan learn­ing how to skate at age 8.

She went on to win a gold medal in the women’s 3,000me­ter short-track speed­skat­ing re­lay at the 1993 World Short Track Speed Skat­ing Cham­pi­onships in Bei­jing.

“I al­ways wanted to re­main in­volved in skat­ing and my dream was to be­come a coach after re­tir­ing,” Zhang said.

To be­come a qual­i­fied coach, she chose to study at home and abroad after her re­tire­ment in 1995.

After ob­tain­ing a bach­e­lor’s de­gree from Hei­long jiang Univer­sity, Zhang con­tin­ued study­ing nutri­tion and ex­er­cise re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion in Ja­pan, where she was awarded sev­eral pro­fes­sional cer­tifi­cates.

While study­ing ex­er­cise re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of the dis­abled, she be­gan to ex­plore the idea of be­com­ing a Spe­cial Olympics coach, and in 2014 was sum­moned back to her home­town.

“I still re­mem­ber the smile on the face of the prin­ci­pal when I went to se­lect ath­letes

They are like my own chil­dren — they are my pride and joy.” Zhang Jie, founder of a Spe­cial Olympics short-track speed­skat­ing team in Qi­taihe

at Qi­taihe Spe­cial Ed­u­ca­tion School,” Zhang said.

“He told me that he and the stu­dents’ par­ents would do any­thing to help the stu­dents have the op­por­tu­nity to en­joy sports in the same way as chil­dren with­out dis­abil­i­ties. His words were in­spi­ra­tional.”

How­ever, when the 26 team mem­bers lined up in front of her for the first time, Zhang re­al­ized the task she was faced with was go­ing to be far more dif­fi­cult than she had imag­ined.

Only five of the chil­dren, who all had hear­ing dis­abil­i­ties, were able to run.

Due to the poor re­cep­tiv­ity and phys­i­cal con­di­tion of the team, Zhang had to re­peat ev­ery ac­tion count­less times.

“Dur­ing the process, I found that ded­i­ca­tion, pa­tience and love are much more im­por­tant than sports tech­nolo­gies,” Zhang said.

To get closer to the chil­dren, Zhang gave each of them a nick­name. Some­times in the train­ing, she dressed up as dif­fer­ent an­i­mals and told sto­ries to the chil­dren.

“I wanted to show them that I am their coach, but also their friend,” Zhang said.

“How­ever, I felt guilty about not spend­ing enough time with my daugh­ter, es­pe­cially dur­ing her se­nior high school en­trance ex­am­i­na­tion.” But her ef­forts paid off. “All of the chil­dren made great progress, which sur­prised many of their par­ents,” Zhang said. “The chil­dren’s co­or­di­na­tion im­proved and more im­por­tant, they learned the im­por­tance of team­work.”

Over the past two and a half years, Zhang has taken a keen in­ter­est in the chil­dren’s over­all de­vel­op­ment, of­ten vis­it­ing their homes and record­ing ev­ery de­tail about their progress.

“See­ing them grow as peo­ple has meant the most to me,” she said.

“I helped them de­velop phys­i­cally and men­tally through skat­ing, but I hope it also en­abled them to re­al­ize their po­ten­tial and build self­worth,” Zhang said.

“We have re­cruited a new group of team mem­bers now and I be­lieve sports can help their men­tal and phys­i­cal de­vel­op­ment,” she said.

“I hope to help chil­dren in need of ex­er­cise re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion all around the coun­try.”

PHO­TOS BY WANG KAI / XINHUA

Zhang Jie coaches the Spe­cial Olympics short-track speed­skat­ing team she founded in Qi­taihe, Hei­longjiang province.

Zhang (fifth from left) and 13 mem­bers of the Spe­cial Olympics short-track speed­skat­ing team in Qi­taihe.

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