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Centenarian cherishes torchbearer dream
By Xie Fang (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-08-23 07:33


Centenarian Cao Zuozheng is tiny, has no teeth and walks with a stick. But she has a passion for life and a dream - to become a torchbearer for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

The 103-year-old is the first from her community in Beijing's Dongcheng District to register for the torchbearer selection program, which started on June 23.

If Cao succeeds, she could be the oldest of the 21,880 torchbearers to be selected across China and the rest of the world for the Games.

She came up with the idea in 2004 when she had a photo taken of her with a Chinese torchbearer for the Athens Games. She waited three hours in her wheelchair on the roadside to watch the relay in Beijing.

The enlarged photo has been in her bedroom since then, to remind her how the dream began.

"I am in good health. I can go wherever the Games organizers wish. And I have no problem at all holding the torch high," Cao said.

Xiao Xinhua, the youngest of Cao's four children who lives with her mother, said: "My mother is keen, and, more importantly, she is healthy. She has hardly been to a hospital in her entire life, except for cataract surgery. That's why she feels she fits the bill."

To get physically fit, Cao started exercising in 2004, walking about 300 meters twice a day with a stick. She also insists on washing her hair with cold water, which she believes keeps her healthy.

She frequently lifts her hand above her head as if holding a torch and "really enjoys doing it," Xiao said with a smile.

With her daughter's help, Cao has even made a bright blue dress and an ornament - a Fuwa necklace - for the big day, just in case her dream comes true.

"I am impressed with Cao," said Kong Fanpei, an official at the Weijia neighborhood committee, where Cao lives.

"But I personally don't think it is practical for her to be a torchbearer as she is too old, he added.

Last month, Cao, as the only candidate from her community, was recommended to a higher authority - Jingshan subdistrict office.

The selection process has two parts: one is done through recommendations by various organizations and institutions; the other is an open process in which self-recommendations are accepted, according to the Beijing Torch Relay Centre.

"We don't have the power to put Cao on the list as we have to follow the selection process," said a official there who did not want to be identified.

But she said that a wheelchair is acceptable during the relay, and the travel distance can be adjusted based on the torchbearer's health condition.

The torchbearer selection program will close by the end of October and the final results will be released in January or February.

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