Qian Hongyan, 25, first made headlines more than 15 years ago when local news outlets photographed her sitting inside a makeshift wheelchair made from half a basketball and moving around using wooden-handled paddles.
She returned to front pages on Thursday after claiming a silver medal in the 100-meter breaststroke SB5 at the 11th National Games for Persons with Disabilities in Xi’an, part of China’s northwestern Shaanxi province. Her time of 1:51:96 added to a growing list of achievements.
Born into a farming family in Luliang county of Qujing, Yunnan province, she lost the lower part of her body below the pelvis in a car accident at age 4. To allow her to attend school, her grandfather cut an old basketball in half and filled it with cotton so she could rest the stump of her upper body. Neighbors called her the “basketball girl” and she walked using her hands. She said she didn’t remember how many basketballs she had worn out over the years.
At age 11, she joined the provincial swimming team for the disabled. Lack of lower limbs posed great challenges, just to maintain balance.
“It’s like a ship drifting on water without a rudder,” she said.
Her coach designed a special practice plan. Every day, she works out for more than four hours — swimming, lifting weights, doing sit-ups and stretching her arms. In 2009, she won three gold medals at provincial games for the disabled. In 2016, she placed ninth in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. “I was left behind and then caught up,” she said, recalling the experience while at the National Games.
She was offered a job at the county’s disabled persons federation.
She said a disability doesn’t mean uselessness, and she wants to see more disabled people develop the courage to face life and realize their human value.