During the recently concluded London Paralympic Games, Cao Yuanhang won a silver medal in the women's T34/38 category 4 x 100-meter relay race and a bronze in the women's T37/38 long jump, despite having struggled with cerebral palsy her whole life.
Cao Yuanhang won a silver medal in the women's T34/38 category 4 x 100-meter relay race and a bronze in the women's T37/38 long jump category. [citygf.com]
This is the first time that Cao, 21, has taken part in the Paralympics. "She has proven her abilities," said Peng Shanghui, the office director for the Disabled Person's Association (DPA) in Cao's hometown of Foshan, south China's Guangdong Province. It was Peng who first suggested that Cao should start training to become a professional athlete.
"At first, her parents did not agree with my suggestion that Cao should become a professional athlete," recalled Peng. However, it was a stroke of luck that she did, as Cao herself says that if she had ignored his advice, she would have ended up working in a factory.
Cao was born with cerebral palsy, which has caused disabilities in her right limbs.
"When my mother gave birth to me, I was very weak," said Cao. "Although I survived, part of my brain was damaged. As a child, I was shy, introverted and quiet."
"She had no confidence in herself and was very sensitive at that time," said her father.
That was part of the reason why Cao's father hesitated to agree to Peng's suggestion. "As a matter of fact, I believed firmly that my daughter would only be able to achieve a better life through education," he said.
Fortunately, he did not forbid his daughter from trying. Cao began to train formally as an athlete when she was 12 years old.
Peng had begun to work for the local DPA in 1992 and witnessed the development of local sports for the disabled. When he met Cao for the first time, he realized that this girl, who could barely walk, had real sports potential.
"When I looked at Cao, I thought she would fall over if she took a step," said Zhou Yaming, one of Peng's colleagues.
However, Cao soon proved her athletic skills when she was recruited by the Guangdong Provincial team after training with the local athletic team.
After a few years of training as a sprinter, she began taking part in national sporting events, but failed to win any gold medals. Last year, she participated in the eighth national games for the disabled and won a silver medal in the T37 category women's 100-meter race and two bronze medals in the women's 200-meter and 400-meter races.
Despite her medals, Cao felt pessimistic about her sporting career. She believed that she had done all she could in terms of sprinting and wanted to try out other categories.
After discussing the matter over with her trainers, she decided to train in the long jump category. "My background in sprinting came in handy because it meant I could pick up speed quickly," said Cao.
She soon showed an aptitude for her new sport. In May this year, she won a silver medal at an international sports event. "I was so excited because it was a world-class competition," said Cao.
While pleased with Cao's achievement, Peng said, "The most important thing is not just to win, but to help the disabled to improve their physical and psychological conditions through competitive sport."
The positive effects of sports on the disabled has been proven through Cao, whose success in the athletic arena has not only brought her medals but also improved physical conditions.
"At first glance, you would not be able to tell that she is disabled," said Li Zhihao, the former team leader of the disabled athletes in Cao's hometown.
(Source: citygf.com/Translated and edited by womenofchina.cn)
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