"I spent almost two years in hospital recovering from my leg injuries, but I refused to give up," she said. "When I couldn't use my legs, I trained the muscles on my belly and back instead," she added, crediting these with her sweeping success in 1957.
Battling depression, injuries and grueling training programs, Zheng set herself a goal of jumping 1 cm higher each year after breaking the record, but she only managed to jump 1 cm higher in the rest of her sporting career.
Her greatest setback came with the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), when she was persecuted for an alleged "crime" of being overly egotistical, a crime that seems ridiculous by today's more liberal standards.
"I thought about death a lot" as the persecution became almost unbearable, she said. Years later, having survived a parotid gland cancer scare and the ailments of old age, she thinks the experience made her stronger.
Now she exercises daily and can still kick at shoulder height. She also heads an all-celebrity table-tennis club, a tennis club for retired people, and is working on setting up a school to help retired athletes get an education.
"I refuse to die before I see this school open its doors," she said, affecting a mock robot-like voice.
Zheng celebrated the 50th anniversary of her historic jump last month. Receiving a congratulatory letter from IOC President Jacques Rogge was nice, she said, but any opportunity to let her hair down was welcome.
"Part of the reason we organized this was to remind others of our past achievements," she said. "But most importantly, I like partying."
In her 200 sq m apartment, Zheng keeps a thick album filled with photos from the past. Some are of celebrities, others are of her husband, also a national high jump champion. There is even one featuring her with late premier Zhou Enlai.
She said the encouragement Zhou and others gave her meant more than all the prize money she never received.
"Western reporters used to constantly grill me about how much the government gave me for setting the record," she said. "I didn't get a kuai. If I did, I probably would have choked. Money was like a foreign concept to me back then."