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Serving up a lesson in grit and resolve

By XU HAOYU in Hangzhou | China Daily | Updated: 2023-10-28 10:44
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Dong Shunjiang. [Photo/Xinhua]

Chinese wheelchair tennis player Dong Shunjiang missed out on a medal at the Asian Para Games this week, but the irrepressible 31-year-old is determined to take the positives from his campaign in Hangzhou as he looks forward to future challenges on the court.

Dong, a survivor of the Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan province in 2008, saw bronze slip from his grasp in a 2-0 defeat to Japan's Takuya Miki at Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Tennis Centre on Friday.

However, Dong remained upbeat after his shock exit, explaining that he regards the Asian Para Games as an opportunity to grow physically and mentally as a person by competing against higher-level opponents. His perseverance in rebuilding his life after the earthquake have forged this mental toughness.

"After the earthquake, I went through a very difficult period of having no dreams or goals. But when I started playing tennis, I learned to face challenges instead of running away from them," Dong said after Friday's defeat.

In 2008, then 16-year-old Dong was buried under the rubble in Wenchuan as he tried to save two of his younger classmates. He lost his right leg after being rescued.

Dong initially struggled to deal with the physical pain and mental scars of the amputation. During hot summer days, he still prefers to wear long pants to hide his prosthetic leg.

Wheelchair tennis, though, has helped heal his emotional wounds.

Dong was selected for the Sichuan provincial wheelchair tennis team in April 2009. Before officially joining the squad, he dedicated himself to mastering the exceptional wheelchair mobility required to excel in the sport. He spent over 12 hours a day practicing on the relatively flat fields near his home, breaking several wheelchairs in the process.

Mentor Cao Linhong recalled that, when he first met Dong as a young man, he was withdrawn and introverted, as he was still recovering from his ordeal mentally. However, through his training, and thanks to the support of his family and friends, he gradually rediscovered his love for life.

"Tennis is all I think about, and I always forget that I have a disability when I'm playing. I get really psyched up, and I can't help shouting with excitement every time I hit a winner."

"Before taking up tennis, I sometimes had to wear a fake smile, but now it is very genuine," Dong said.

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