sharing the Olympic spirit
OLYMPICS/ Olympic Life

The 'basketball girl' diaries
By Matt Hodges

Updated: 2008-06-06 11:25


"I just remember when I woke up, my legs felt very cold," Qian said of what happened in Yunnan's Qujing city on Oct 21, 2000, days after Kylie Minogue kicked off the 2000 Sydney Paralympics with a rendition of the hit song "Celebration."

"I said, 'Mum, put my shoes on for me,' but my mum didn't say anything. Her tears fell onto my face and I found that, for the rest of my life, I wouldn't have to wear socks, or shoes, or even pants again," the China Police Daily quoted her as saying in 2005.

Her mother felt guilty because, when the truck hit, Qian had been rushing to fetch a key to their house from nearby field. One of Qian's friends made it to the other side of the road. The other did not even make it to hospital.

Some time later, her grandfather spotted a broken old basketball while visiting relatives. He sliced it open and dropped her inside, like a pot plant.

"He brought it home and put me inside it. The first time I got inside, I felt very, very happy. I thought it was awesome," she said.

Now Qian serves as a striking metaphor in a country that has seen its international sporting prowess highlighted by NBA star Yao Ming: she is a future star athlete who is literally growing out of a basketball.

Qian's story and the recent success of foreign stars like Oscar Pistorius and Natalie du Toit promises to raise the profile of the Paralympics, which is often regarded as little more than a footnote to the Olympics.

Du Toit, a one-legged swimmer from South Africa, made history in recent weeks by qualifying for the Beijing Olympics, while compatriot Pistorius, a double amputee sprinter, won a lengthy legal battle to become eligible for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Both have helped blur the boundaries between differently-abled and able-bodied sports stars.

"All of us have an iron will," said Qian. "Maybe that is because we have disabilities and we have experienced so much."

At South of the Clouds, China's primary training base for its Beijing 2008 Paralympic squad, Qian said she discovered a level playing field.

"No one stares at me here because we're all the same."

Her best friend is training partner Han Dan, who has no hands. Wei Mei has returned to her orphanage, and Qian does not know if they will meet again.

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