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Ping Yali, China's First Paralympic Champion
    2008-09-08 17:51:14     CRIENGLISH.com

Most people think Xu Haifeng is the first Chinese citizen to fly the national flag in the Olympics. However, few know that Ping Yali proudly bore China's national flag at the Paralympics a month before Xu Haifeng's success. So today let's follow our reporter He Fei to take a closer look at her.

In 1984, visually-impaired Ping Yali took part in the 7th Paralympic Games in New York. The 22-year-old lass sprang with all her strength and won the long jump gold for China. It was also the first time the Chinese national flag was hoisted at a Paralympics field. However, the young girl couldn't see the historical moment.

Born in Beijing, Ping Yali has been blind since birth because of a congenital cataract. As the youngest daughter and the only disabled child of the family, Ping Yali was given a lot of love and care by her mother. So the moment Ping Yali stood on the winners' podium, she thought about her.

"When I won the championship, I first thought about my mom. If she were still alive and saw me winning China's first Paralympic gold, I'm not sure if she would've cried or smiled."

It's tough enough for a blind person to walk, let alone run or be a long-jump athlete. Ping Yali says most blind people have a constant fear of running into obstacles.

"One of the innermost fears of us blind people is that of falling into holes. For us, these holes symbolize death. The two things go hand-in-hand."

Ping Yali overcame this mental barrier and gradually found a way to train effectively with her coach. However, that was anything but easy. To learn the skills needed to be an ace long jump athlete, she devised a specialized training method. Her coach would demonstrate step by step the different actions involved in long jumping, while Ping Yali would have her hands on her coach's body, making a mental picture and imitating the movements.

After the Paralympic championship, the government gave her an apartment and 300 yuan. This was far below young Ping Yali's expectations, who was hoping for more incentive at the time.

"After winning the championship, life presented me with many new problems. My troubles were far from over. It meant, I had to start my life from scratch again."

Life has never been easy for this iron-willed woman. After her landmark Paralympic victory, Ping Yali gave birth to a son, who due to a cruel twist of fate was also born blind. The terrible news shocked her beyond belief, almost prompting her to take her own life.

"At that time, I kept crying every day. A medical professor who was also my friend said to me that if you cried for a thousand years, and your son could be cured then I would cry with you. But that's impossible. Crying can't help anything. If I were you, I would work out a way to tackle the problem."

Ping Yali was awakened by the professor's words. Although she later also had to contend with a failed marriage, she didn't let anything get her down and insisted on bringing up her son by herself. Despite qualifying for government aid, she refused it saying she wanted to earn her own living. She said her son gave her the strength to carry on, even in the darkest of moments.

"If my blind son started depending solely on government aid, I would consider myself a failed mom. So to set the benchmark for my son, I told myself that I had to start my own business."

In 2001, Ping Yali became a licensed massage practitioner and opened a small business in her home with the help of her friends. It was tough going during the early stages.

"At that time, I couldn't afford an accountant. And in order to attract more customers, I kept my prices very low. I used all my strength to do the massages, but some times, after one hour of hard work, what I got was a fake 100 yuan note. But I couldn't tell since I couldn't see the note. I even returned the right change to such people. It was really discouraging. Sometimes, I reconsidered accepting money from the government. When I was almost ready to throw the towel in, some kind-hearted people helped me through the turbulent times. They came to my place to get massages. These kind souls gave me the strength and motivation to keep going."

Now Ping Yali has opened a chain of three massage shops in Beijing. Her son Feng Bo is studying massage in a special school for the blind in Beijing. She can not only afford his tuition fee and raise the family, but also creates job vacancies for the disabled. More than 20 disabled people work in her massage parlors. Seeing her mother's steely resolve and will to survive inspired Feng Bo. He considers his mom as his role model.

"She has a strong, unique character. Whenever she faces difficulties, no matter how tough the challenge is, she soldiers on and tried her best. That is the very thing I aspire to learn from her."

Ping Yali's ultimate goal is to teach her son how to earn a living by himself. So far, she has done a good job in that regard.

Ping Yali has been through much more than ordinary people can imagine. She has a motto that speaks volumes on her attitude to life.

"When misfortunes come one after another, please don't give up. Think about yourself and the strong points in your character. Starting from the things that you can do, you'll progress step by step until you reach your final goal. Please never give up and a brighter tomorrow will eventually dawn."

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