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Walking the talk on the Great Wall

China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-04 07:57
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Australian schoolgirl with cerebral palsy shows willpower in China

Once built to keep invaders out, the Great Wall, one of China's best-known faces, has now become a platform to bring people together. For Taylor Walker-Lear, an 11-year-old Australian schoolgirl, it is a magic ladder which carried her closer to her dream.

Taylor was born with cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects movement and coordination. But her indomitable willpower has sent her on missions to create public awareness about the disorder and raise funds for people living with it.


Clockwise from above: Taylor Walker-Lear is amazed after climbing to the highest spot of the Great Wall in Beijing on June 6; the 11-year-old Australian girl tackles the Great Wall step-by-step with her mother's guidance; accompanied by her parents, she climbs the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. Photos by Meng Dingbo / Xinhua

In March 2016, she summited Mount Kosciuszko, the highest mountain in Australia at 2,229 meters above sea level. When her mother Toni asked her what her next goal was, she answered: "Mount Everest might be a little too hard right now, but maybe the Great Wall."

On June 6 this year, her wish came true. With her walking aid, the sup-port of her parents and sponsor, and accompanied by a group of primary school volunteers from Beijing, Taylor realized her dream in China by climbing the stretch of the Great Wall known as Mutianyu despite rain and an ensuing chill.

The Mutianyu part was built by General Xu Da in the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) more than 600 years ago, and was mainly used for military defense.

Taylor moved ahead slowly yet steadily, and with determination. When the stairs were too steep to maneuver on her own, her parents lifted her, encouraging her to keep going.

The journey started near Watch Tower No 14, somewhere in the middle of the Mutianyu Great Wall. In the dim and cramped tower, Taylor attentively listened to the guide narrating the long history of the Great Wall. Then she went to a little window in the tower to look at the magnificent view below.

"It's amazingly beautiful!" she told Xinhua.

Her father Simon said China holds a "magical appeal" for Taylor, even though she couldn't define it exactly.

Mission possible

In preparation for her Great Wall mission, Taylor underwent physiotherapy for months to strengthen her legs and build up stamina. She also swam.

Simon said she is passionate about swimming and wants to be a Paralympic swimmer like Jacqueline Freney, fellow Australian with cerebral palsy who won eight golds in the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

In September 2016, Taylor went through a major surgery to improve her motor function. After that, she was able to stand straight like other children. Asked whether the operation was painful, she said breezily: "It's all right."

Toni said her daughter never cried while recovering from the surgery despite the pain. "She is such a courageous kid. She always pushes herself to be the best she can be," she said.

Dougal Cameron, a volunteer who accompanied Taylor on her Great Wall trip, said he was inspired by her. "It was obviously painful for her to walk so far along the Great Wall. She is amazing," he said.

The trip to the Great Wall was surreal for Toni. "We are so grateful for all the support Taylor received from all corners of the world," she said.

Paying it forward

One person who deserved special thanks was Norman Li, a Chinese businessman who works and lives in Sydney. He sponsored Taylor's China trip.

When Li, who owns a health and skincare company, learned about Taylor's dream to climb the Great Wall, he was touched and decided to sponsor Taylor's and her family's trip to Beijing.

He then arranged a one-week visit, which also included a short trip to Shanghai. By sponsoring the trip, he told Xinhua he was expressing his gratitude.

When Li went to study in Australia about three decades ago and then started working there, he said warmhearted locals helped him in various ways.

"What I did for Taylor was also to repay those Australians who gave me a hand years ago," he said. As an old Chinese saying goes, "A drop of water in need shall be returned with a burst of spring in deed."

During her climb, a group of Chinese primary school students followed Taylor closely. Before she started out, they gave her a red rooster doll, symbolizing the Year of the Rooster according to the Chinese calendar, to bring her luck. The little gift lit up Taylor's face.

Simon said Taylor was inspired by so many people who accompanied her, their support reinforced her confidence and made the climb easier.

Toni said the Chinese were above and beyond their expectations. "China is really opening its arms, and people are so warm, kind, friendly ... They are really interested in Taylor and her story," she said.

This was also part of Li's intention - to enable foreigners to better understand China and the Chinese. "I hope they can know more about China's development. It's so different from their old perception," he explained.

Taylor now has a new mission: to train hard so that she can take part in the swimming events at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. The walk on the Great Wall has given her a booster dose of confidence she needed for that.


(China Daily 11/04/2017 page16)

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