If you think you don’t have what it takes to be what you really want to be then meet Qian Hongyan, from Yunnan, south west China. Shemade the headlines in 2005 when she was photographed ‘walking’ with the help of a basketball. Today, that same young woman is a champion swimmer with Paralympic dreams.
A four-year-old Qian Hongyan had both of her legs amputated after getting into an accident in 2000 where she nearly lost her life. Her family were extremely impoverished. They farmed and produced silk for a meager living. According to People’s Daily Online, with little resources available, her grandfather resorted to cutting up an old basketball to replace of her lower body. The little girl learnt to ‘walk’ on her hands by supporting her entire upper body using wooden pads with handles. The basketball helped her to balance and provided a platform to rest on when she got tired.
She spent many years of her childhood being dubbed the ‘Basketball Girl’ by locals as a result.
In 2005, Qian Hongyan’s incredible hardship caught the widespread attention of Chinese, and later, international media. For China, where disability is almost never discussed, this became a talking point. It also became a turning point in the then ten-year-old girl’s life. With the help and support of donations, she was given the chance to travel more than 1,600 miles to Beijing and be fitted with her first pair of legs.
Every step of her journey became a newsworthy story that not only revealed a little of Qian Hongyan’s life but also highlighted the plight of living with disability in China. Then another blow came in 2007. Through donations, Qian Hongyan was able to attend and finish primary school.
However, according to Xinhua news, she was faced with the reality that her family simply did not have enough money to allow her to continue her education beyond the age of 11.
While most people would be disheartened by the dashed hope of a future, Qian Hongyan set out to create her own destiny. She returned to Yunnan where she was encouraged to join South of the Cloud, a local swim team for people with disability and one of the first of its kind in China. Qian Hongyan’s high amputation made swimming particularly difficult. She revealed in an interview with China Daily: ‘It seemed there was no way I could float in the water. I always choked.’
But she really put her heart into the sport. Within a few years, she was winning gold medals at national competitions and had dreams of representing China in the Paralympics in London 2012.
In 2009, Qian made headlines again by winning one gold medal and two silver medals in the Chinese National Paralympics Swimming Competition.
She harvested another three silver medals in the same national competition in the following year.
In 2011, just ahead of the Paralympic qualifiers, Qian Hongyan’s grandfather died. She managed to win a bronze medal in the race but it wasn’t enough to get her on the team.
Feeling dejected, she avoided the public eye for a while and returned home, where her younger brothers welcomed her like a hero. After a brief respite, Qian Hongyan returned to training and, as in the past, continued to win medals. In September 2014, Qian won the 100m breaststroke final during the Yunnan Provincial Paralympic Games, which put her and her incredible life stories back in the spotlight.
20-year-old Qian has turned her eventful childhood into a life filled with inspiration, incredible strength and determination. Never say never!