In 2000, 4-year-old girl Qian Hongyan lost her legs in a tragic car accident, her family were afraid that the amputation might also take away her upbeat spirits and optimism. But young Qian Hongyan decided that this is just another way to roll. So Qian’s grandpa cut open a basketball to secure her upper body, and made her pairs of wooden handle. Just like that, Qian Hongyan started to walk with the handles and move around on the basketball. Thus she was also called "basketball girl".
14 years later, the little girl has grown up and become a swimming athlete. In this very year of turning 18, she came in first place in the 100 meter breast stroke final of the 10th Yunnan Province Games for the Disabled. This is not the first time Qian won titles in competition: in the 2009 National Swimming Championship for the Disabled, Qian conquered 1 gold and 2 silvers; in the 2010 National Swimming Championship for the Disabled, Qian took home 3 silvers.
The accident took away her legs, but not her beautiful smile. Even living on a basketball, Qian is always smiling and willing to play. She desires to live a normal life like other kids, except walking, she also wants education from school. According to her father, on the first day of school she was surrounded by other curious kids, her mum asked her if she was scared, her answer was "No. I have to go to school."
"When I woke up, I just felt that my legs are icy cold. I asked my mum to put on shoes for me, mum didn’t say anything but her tears dropped on my face. Then I realized that in this life I wouldn’t need to wear socks or shoes anymore, I don’t even need pants. I walk with a basketball. Up until now, I have already worn out 6 basketballs." Said Qian Hongyan in an interview in 2003.
In 2007, after watching the National Games for the Disabled, she decided to join the "South of the cloud" swimming club for the disabled youth, training under famous coach Zhang Honghu who has fostered a good number of world paralympics champions.
At first, Zhang didn’t have high expectation for Qian Hongyan, "She was level S6 disabled and high level amputated, which was rare even among foreign disabled athletes, and neither of her parents is tall. But she was gifted in swimming, she’s good at floating. Her arm strength, endurance, explosive power, flexibility and coordination are not bad. With systematic training, Qian Hongyan becomes proficient in many swimming positions."
Zhang said that the biggest challenge for her is that without legs, she would be like a boat without peddles, and without sense of direction she’s likely to steer to the sides hampering her speed. Therefore Zhang designed a set of special training to strengthen her coordination and balance of shoulders. Qian spend at least 4 hours training everyday.
"I hope one day that I can participate in the Paralympics Games, standing on the podium like my idols." Says Qian Hongyan.
Qian Hongyan is deeply attached to the water. She says:"I feel more free in the water than out of it, I feel like I can go anywhere."
In the water, Qian can open her arms and fly.
Qian Hongyan’s family is one of poverty, they live many years in their adobe house with the only valuable assets being their half acre water field and half acre hawthorn field. Qian lives with her mum and 2 little brothers at home, her mum takes care of the crops while her dad works in another province. Each year they have no more than 10,000 RMB income (about 1600 USD). Seeing how hard her parents work to put food on the table, Qian wishes she could find a proper job in the future to support the family as well. In the photo, Qian was helping her mom feeding the silk worms.
Last year, Qian Hongyan grew from 1.27m to 1.64m. She is no longer a basketball girl, thanks to people’s donation she now can walk with prosthetic limbs.