College welcomes a student of courage
Losing his legs as a child did not stop a young man from pursuing his dream, report Wang Qian in Beijing and Zhu Youfang in Changsha.
For most graduating students, the college-admission season, usually in July and August, is a nervous time that is often described as a lifechanging moment.
An anxious 18-year-old Peng Lanxi got his admission letter from Hunan University of Science and Technology on July 26, bringing his dream closer — making prosthetic limbs more advanced and accessible to people like him. His mother Wang Chunmei couldn’t hold back her tears because she knew how her son had overcome the odds.
Peng lost his legs in a car accident in 2005, when he was a toddler. Having learned to walk using just his hands, he enjoys life as much as the teenagers around him. On his wheelchair, he plays basketball and badminton. Once a week, he goes for a 40-minute swim, and his best time for 100 meters is 1 minute and 15 seconds.
When going upstairs or downstairs, Peng’s arms move like feet with speed and agility.
“I believe that obstacles are there to be conquered. Someone says that life is like a mirror, and we get the best results when we smile at it,” Peng, who is from Changsha, Hunan province, says.
His story has gone viral on social media platform Sina Weibo, which has been viewed more than 19 million times and he won admiration from its users for his courage, determination and hard work. A user named Shuangpi comments that Peng lost his legs, but he doesn’t let that get in his way.
The official account of Hunan University of Science and Technology on the platform has even commented under the hashtag, welcoming Peng to the university.
Lu Ming, director of the university’s School of Information and Electrical Engineering, says that the school will help Peng to pursue his dream — to be a prosthetics engineer, a career that will change lives.
Peng is not alone, as authorities have bolstered the presence of disabled people on mainstream campuses in recent years. According to the China Disabled Persons’ Federation, 14,559 students facing physical challenges entered college last year.
From 2016 to 2020, about 57,500 special needs students enrolled at universities, a more than 50 percent increase compared with the 2011-15 period, according to Xie Hongde, deputy director of the federation’s education and employment division.
Beating the odds
Shortly after Peng began to walk, the car accident took away his legs in 2005. That started an odyssey for the then 19-month-old, who began his life in a wheelchair, after surgery.
But things didn’t turn better. Skin necrosis occurred at his stumps and he had to receive grafting. His situation got worse during his primary school period when his bones entered a spurt period. He had to receive surgery again, which led to his residual limbs being too short for prosthetics.
Since kindergarten, Peng started to walk with his arms. At first, his arms were not strong enough to hold his body up and he had to climb on the ground, according to his mother.
“When he first practiced walking on hands, it was a common scene for him to fall to the ground. Every year in the first several years, he wore out six pairs of gloves and dozens of trousers on average,” Wang says, adding that, after years of exercise, Peng could “walk” into classroom on his own.
In the second year at the Nanya Middle School in Changsha, Peng’s classroom was on the fifth floor, which meant 88 stairs in one single trip. Every day, Peng had to get up and down at least four times. When his classmates wanted to help him, Peng would say no.
“I don’t need special care. All I want is to be treated as an ordinary man,” Peng says.
In his classmates’ eyes, Peng is a man with a strong personality. They don’t focus on his physical challenges. Instead, they marvel at his competency.
Wang Zhe told local newspaper Xiaoxiang Morning Herald that he was impressed by Peng when he found he could climb faster with his hands than most classmates during a mountain-climbing event in the first year of senior middle school.
In his teacher Zhou Qiming’s eyes, Peng is a diligent and self-disciplined student.
“I have never worried about his scores. What’s more, he is quite optimistic and always ready to help others,” Zhou says.
Besides being a good student, Peng is good at sports. Learning to swim in the first year in primary school, it has been a routine for him to swim about 2,000 meters every week. It usually takes him less than 50 minutes, which can be challenging for healthy people.
“Because of the lack of legs, keeping balance in water is difficult for Peng. He has spent longer than others to get up to the speed he can achieve today,” Leng Jing, his swimming coach, says.
I believe that obstacles are there to be conquered. Someone says that life is like a mirror, and we get the best results when we smile at it.”
Closer to his goal
At this year’s gaokao, national college entrance exam, Peng scored 530 points, and won a place at Hunan University of Science and Technology in Xiangtan, Hunan, about 50 kilometers from his home.
He applied for a major in robotics engineering, because of his dream to research and develop artificial limbs, which are more advanced and economically accessible.
In China, there are more than 85 million people with various disabilities, including nearly 25 million who are physically challenged like Peng, according to the sixth national population census released in 2010.
“I hope that, one day, I can make prosthetics that will improve their quality of life and break down the barriers to a full life for people like me. Through technology, we can stand up, walk and run in the future,” Peng says.
“I am the best tester for prosthetics, because I know what people who have lost limbs need,” he adds.
Next month, he will be a freshman and start his campus life without his parents. During the summer vacation which lasts until early September, Peng wants to pass the driver’s license exam for people with disabilities.
“I am confident that I can take care of myself and realize my dream step by step,” Peng says.
Peng Lanxi, who has been accepted by Hunan University of Science and Technology