sharing the Olympic spirit
OLYMPICS/ Olympic Life

The 'basketball girl' diaries
By Matt Hodges

Updated: 2008-06-06 11:25


Twelve-year-old Qian Hongyan looks like a Subbuteo player when she is out of the pool and a little mermaid when she is in it.

But even Walt Disney could not have imagined the life story of China's double amputee swimming prodigy, who has a removable basbetball where her lower body should be.

"I think living inside a basketball is fine," the freestyle specialist whom local media have nicknamed 'Basketball Girl', told China Daily by phone. "I can do everything other people can do. I can even run, just very slowly."

Eight years after getting mangled under the wheels of an overloaded truck, China's predicted future Paralympic star has become a symbol of hope for a country still scarred by images of children escaping debris in Sichuan province with their limbs missing.

After losing both her legs at the age of four, Qian picked up what was left of her life and is now set to compete at the 2010 Asian Paralympic Games in Guangzhou and the London 2012 Paralympics.

"She's one of the best Paralympic swimmers in China for her age, easily world top 10," said Zhang Honggu, who started the South of the Clouds Swimming Club for the Disabled in Kunming, Yunnan province, where Qian trains.

"She is still fresh to the sport, having barely spent one year in the pool, so we're not taking any chances with her," added coach Li Keqiang. "We don't want to do anything that may damage her confidence."

When she came to the swimming club, the first of its kind in China, last August, she was "weighed down with sorrow, quiet, and introverted," said Zhang. "Now she is outgoing and cheerful."

Her story is an antidote to the tales of woe that followed the May 12 earthquake which tore through China's mountainous heartland.

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