She used to be a talented dancer with a promising career ahead of her. In fact, she was set to lead the dancers in their stirring rendition of the dance "Silk Road" at the 2008 Olympic opening ceremony. However, a tragic accident just a fortnight before the show left her paralyzed. But she has never given up on her dreams.
Before August 2008, Liu Yan was considered one of the best classical dancers in China. She had performed in many dancing dramas, and won a lot of dance contests both in and outside of China.
During the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, Liu Yan was to be the dancer of the only solo dance of the whole ceremony. But just two weeks before the event, she fell off a malfunctioning platform during a rehearsal. Paramedics could not get to her for 50 minutes, due to the strict cordon around rehearsals. Eventually she underwent 6 hours of surgery, although doctors say it is unlikely she will ever walk again.
For a dancer, immobility is perhaps the cruelest punishment of all, and Liu Yan became extremely depressed. Her family and friends have given her great support. Nevertheless, she says the psychological recovery still requires a long time.
"I think time is the best medicine for curing my psychological hurt. These days my physical condition is much better, although I still need help with many aspects of life. But mentally, I think I still need some time to recover from the sudden disaster."
Relying on a wheelchair in her daily life, dancing seems to be a remote dream that can never be realized. But Liu Yan has never given up. She is now working as a lecturer at the Beijing Dance Academy. During her spare time, she still keeps practicing. Last November, she performed in a dance named "The Darkest Night, The Brightest Lamp", in which her personal experience was the subject. Liu Yan says to perform on the stage in a wheelchair not only requires talent, but also the persistence of pursuing a dream.
"Everyone may have a darkest night in his or her life, involving difficulties or unexpected disasters. You should find the brightest lamp from within your own soul, which is the spiritual power that can support you to emerge from the dark night."
Liu Yan's persistence and strong will touched many young people. This May, she was awarded the "May 4th Youth Medal", which honours outstanding youths in China. She expressed what she considers to be most important thing in a young person's life.
"I think no matter whether their material life is rich or poor, people should always have a dream to pursue. The persistence of striving for one's goal is very important."
As a dancer, Liu Yan used to participate in many performing events. But now, she pays more attention to charity activities. This year, she established a fund to support arts education in poor areas. She was also appointed as the representative of the Beijing Foundation for Disabled People. Liu Yan says charity has become a big part of her life.
"I'm trying my best to take part in as many charity events as possible. Even if they are not charity activities, but are things that can help improve society, I'm willing to participate. Now I don't join in performing things, but I've got more choices. I will also initiate some worthwhile events and call more people to get involved."