The story of Qian Hongyan is a hugely inspirational one. She became a role model in China in 2005. Qian, or “Basketball Girl,” is a young woman from Yunnan, Southwest China, who has beaten incredible odds to become a champion swimmer. She lost both of her legs at the age of four following a traffic accident, and had to learn to move around with a basketball attached to her lower half.
She had no educational future, so she started swimming and became a champion. She has subsequently won a number of gold medals in recent years. In 2009, in the Chinese National Paralympics Swimming Competition, she achieved national championship level. In 2014, she won another gold medal for breaststroke in the Yunnan Provincial Paralympic Games.
Qian became disabled at the age of four, when she had to have both of her legs amputated at the hip after being involved in a car accident. Her family was very poor, and made a meagre living from producing silk. With so few resources available to help, her grandfather cut an old basketball in half to replace her lower body and give her some mobility. The little girl learned to “walk” on her hands, by using wooden pads with handles to support her upper body and move herself around. The basketball gave her a platform to balance on, and to rest on when she got tired.
Locals called her “Basketball Girl” as a result, and in 2005, the incredible hardship of her life reached the widespread attention of the Chinese press, and later on, the international media. This became a turning point in Qian’s life, at age 10, when support and donations flooded in. With the help of all of this public support, she was able to travel to Beijing to be fitted with her first pair of prosthetic legs. She was able to attend and complete primary school.
Unfortunately, after the initial public support, the money ran out. Her family could simply not afford for her to continue her education beyond the age of 11, which came as a blow. However, not to be kept down by this, she returned to Yunnan and joined a local swimming group for those with disabilities, one of the first of its kind in China. She was still faced with massive hardship - due to the fact that her legs were amputated so high, she didn’t float in the water, but choked instead, and she also couldn’t swim in one direction. However, she really put everything she had into her swimming, and her incredible determination paid off. She was soon winning gold medals in national competitions, such as the Chinese National Paralympics Competition in 2009.
In China, where disabilities are hardly ever discussed, Qian’s inspirational story is all the more remarkable. Every step of her journey has become a newsworthy story that not only revealed Qian Hongyan's life story, but also brought being differently-abled in China to public attention. Her bravery and determination set a standard which few can hope to match.
Picture courtesy of www.dailymail.co.uk