How ‘bas­ket­ball girl’ be­came a Par­a­lympian

Teen, born into poverty, over­came odds and dis­abil­ity to com­pete on world stage

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By LI YINGQING in Kun­ming and ZHANG ZHIHAO in Bei­jing Con­tact the writ­ers at zhangzhi­hao@chi­

Dis­abled swim­mer Qian Hongyan made a real splash at the 2016 Rio Par­a­lympics.

Although the 19-year-old fin­ished 9th over­all in the 100-me­ter breast stroke SB5, her story of re­silience con­tin­ues to move peo­ple around the world.

In 2000, the then 4-yearold Qian was hit by a truck in her home­town of Ma­jie, Yun­nan province, crush­ing both her legs.

“I just re­mem­ber that when I woke up, my legs felt very cold,” Qian told China Daily in a 2008 in­ter­view. She said she would lay on her back all day with no­body to talk to fol­low­ing the ac­ci­dent, feel­ing like the whole world had col­lapsed in on her. “It was a dark time,” she said.

Her im­pov­er­ished fam­ily could not af­ford proper pros­thet­ics, so her grand­fa­ther im­pro­vised — cut­ting an old bas­ket­ball in half to sup­port Qian’s lower body and giv­ing her a pair of wooden pad­dles that al­lowed her to walk on her hands.

She be­came a na­tional sen­sa­tion and re­ceived the moniker “bas­ket­ball girl” af­ter her story and pho­to­graphs were pub­lished far and wide.

Later, with the help of donors and of­fi­cials from the traf­fic bu­reau, Qian went to Bei­jing and was given free ar­ti­fi­cial limbs. Thanks to ex­ten­sive phys­i­cal ther­apy, she can now walk 1 km in 16 min­utes car­ry­ing a 5-kg back­pack with­out as­sis­tance.

In Au­gust 2007, swim­ming coach Zhang Honggu, who had es­tab­lished China’s first swim club for the dis­abled, saw Qian’s po­ten­tial and en­cour­aged her to join.

She be­came one of the club’s first mem­bers.

But learning to swim was hard. “With­out legs, she is like a ship with­out a helm. It is hard for her to con­trol her ori­en­ta­tion and bal­ance,” Zhang said.

De­spite the set­backs, Qian never gave up. She got up at 7 am ev­ery morn­ing and trained for five hours each day.

“I used to envy my class­mates a lot,” she said. “Af­ter school, they al­ways went home run­ning and jump­ing, and I couldn’t do that. But when I’m in the wa­ter, I’m the same as them, and this is why I love swim­ming.”

In 2009, Qian was se­lected to join her province’s swim team and won three gold medals in the 9th Yun­nan Provin­cial Games for the Dis­abled. That same year, she took one gold and two sil­vers in the un­der-18 divi­sion of the swim­ming com­pe­ti­tion at the Na­tional Games for the Dis­abled be­fore go­ing on to claim three sil­vers at the fol­low­ing year’s com­pe­ti­tion held in Shaox­ing, Zhe­jiang province.

With so many medals un­der her belt, Qian’s next wish was to com­pete on the world stage. In prepa­ra­tion for the 2016 Par­a­lympic Games, she swam more than 10,000 me­ters ev­ery­day.

Fi­nally, in April, she re­ceived her in­vi­ta­tion to join the na­tional team. “I was so sur­prised when I heard the news. All I could think about was train­ing hard and get­ting a good score,” she said.

Although she didn’t make it to the fi­nal round at the Games, Qian said she was sat­is­fied with her per­for­mance and learned a lot.

Now, the “bas­ket­ball girl” has be­come an out­go­ing, friendly woman filled with youth­ful ex­u­ber­ance.

“As her coach, I al­ways want to help her, but Qian needs to fig­ure out how she will sup­port her­self in fu­ture. I hope she can truly as­sim­i­late into so­ci­ety,” Zhang said.

“See­ing how much she has changed though, it seems all the hard work was worth it.”


Qian Hongyan and her coach Zhang Honggu at the 2016 Par­a­lympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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