China

One-legged para-alpine skier glides out of adversity

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KUNMING, March 4 (Xinhua) — Up until six years ago, Yan Gong had never seen snow, but now he will compete in the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics that opens Friday evening.

The journey of the 24-year-old Chinese para-alpine skier did not come easy. When he was 17, Yan lost part of his right leg below the knee when the three-wheel vehicle he was driving overturned.

Yan was born in an impoverished family in Pu’er City, southwest China’s Yunnan Province. In 2015, about 32 percent of people in his subtropical hometown still lived in poverty. At that time, Yan had to share a bamboo hut with three other family members.

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Yan’s mother passed away when he was only 8 years old, and one year after his amputation, his father suddenly died of gastrorrhagia.

“I undertook so many of life’s punches back then and just wanted to give up on my life,” said Yan. “After my amputation in 2015, I could do nothing but stay at home.”

Shortly after the death of the father, the difficult situations faced by Yan and his young sister caught the attention of cadres who were assigned to help Yan’s village with anti-poverty programs. Yan also managed to pull himself together and resumed his favorite hobby — playing basketball.

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Through joint efforts, in 2016 Yan was enrolled in a vocational training school in Kunming, the provincial capital, which provides free education for those with disabilities.

A few weeks after Yan’s first semester, the young man’s strong build drew the attention of the provincial sports officials visiting the school. He was later drafted as a para-alpine ski racer after multiple tryouts, a big surprise to him.

“I was so fascinated when seeing snow in Shenyang (in northeast China) for the very first time because the climate in my hometown is so warm in winter,” Yan recalled.

However, Yan was soon overwhelmed by the tremendously demanding practice regimen of alpine skiing, which is challenging even for those without disabilities. “When I first skied on the snowfield, I could not even keep my balance and twisted my knee,” said Yan. “The giant slalom was the toughest, and it was very hard to bypass the obstacles.”

Despite hardships, Yan overcame his fear and gradually found ways to avoid tumbling.

Yan has now garnered good scores in multiple domestic and foreign tournaments and even a gold medal at a national championship for para-alpine skiing.

“By skiing, I earned the allowance and income to support my younger sister to continue her education,” said Yan.

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Yan said he is grateful to the cadres, school teachers and his coach for their help over the years. “I also want to say ‘well done’ to myself as I didn’t give up and am becoming more fearless and confident.”

“I will go all out in the 2022 Winter Paralympics. It is my biggest wish to express the best part of me in the Games,” Yan added.

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